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American Farmland Trust Applauds Bipartisan Bill to Advance a Smart Solar Buildout

(Washington, D.C. — September 25th, 2023) – American Farmland Trust (AFT) applauds today’s bipartisan introduction of the Protecting Future Farmland Act of 2023. The legislation, introduced by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would make significant progress toward ensuring the current renewable energy buildout benefits rural communities, protects farmland, and strengthens farm viability.

Specifically, the Protecting Future Farmland Act would direct the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support smart solar projects in the Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP),  develop guidance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help ensure that land converted to solar can be returned to agricultural use, and enable the growth of agrivoltaics by supporting those farming within solar arrays with USDA programs and services. This comprehensive, cost-neutral bill includes many of the recommendations found in AFT’s own Smart Solar platform for the Farm Bill, which was released in May.

“The key question for our national solar buildout is not ‘if,’ but ‘how,’” said Tim Fink, AFT’s Policy Director. “Our nation’s renewable energy transition is happening quickly, and solar energy is a significant part of it. We must act in the next Farm Bill to ensure that this transition benefits farmers, farmland, and farm communities.”

According to the Department of Energy, achieving the goal of a decarbonized electric sector by 2050 could result in the conversion of 10.4 million acres of land to solar energy generation. Farmland is often favored by solar developers, particularly high-quality farmland, because it is flat, sunny, cleared, and near infrastructure such as transmission. In fact, recent AFT modeling revealed that 83% of new solar energy development is likely to take place on farmland if additional policy steps are not taken, with half of that on the nation’s best land for producing food and crops.

Alongside state and local governments, the federal government—and especially USDA—has an important role to play in ensuring that this buildout strengthens rural communities and farm viability and keeps land in production. The federal government can help achieve these goals by modeling a smart solar buildout with its own investments, and by investing in research and providing information to inform the decision-making of producers and communities taking part in the renewable energy transition across the country.

“We are already seeing conflicts across the country as solar projects are proposed on farmland and in farm communities. These tensions and conflicts are slowing down climate action. Done well, solar deployment can be an opportunity to strengthen farm viability and keep land in farming, but to do this right will require action,” said Samantha Levy, AFT’s Conservation and Climate Policy Manager. “We applaud Senator Baldwin and Senator Grassley’s Protecting our Future Farmland Act for introducing a bill with common sense, timely, and necessary policies that will empower USDA to provide trusted information to communities to advance a smarter solar buildout.”

To learn more about AFT’s work on the Farm Bill, click here. To learn more about AFT’s work on Smart Solar, click here.

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