U.S. delivers $2B boost to rural renewables

The United States is focussing on the use of non-prime farmland for developing renewables

The US Department of Agriculture's RAISE initiative will help 400 farmers install small-scale wind projects to help cut their utility costs. Niagara Wind & Solar Inc. photo.

This article was published by The Energy Mix on March 20, 2024.

By Christopher Bonasia

United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently abated fears that essential farmland could become overrun with solar and wind farms, while leaders in Alberta continue to stoke them.

“We know that there are some concerns out there about whether renewable energy will overtake prime farmland,” Vilsack said recently, while announcing US$2.2 billion in loans and loan guarantees for rural electric cooperatives at a meeting in San Antonio, Texas. “We’re obviously encouraging use of non-prime farmland for purposes of renewable energy.”

The funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will go towards rural renewable energy investments in 23 states and help deliver reliable electricity to two million people, a USDA news release states.

But competition for land between energy projects and farming has been a sticking point in those areas. Vilsack said this was one of the reasons for the Rural and Agricultural Income and Savings from Rural Energy (RAISE) initiative, which aims to help 400 farmers install small-scale wind projects under the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). They can use it to power their farm operations, or sell wind-generated electricity to local utilities.

Tensions between energy and food production have materialized in several parts of the U.S., and in other places like Puerto Rico and Ottawa. But studies have shown that rural opposition to energy projects is exaggerated—and that areas aligned with conservative values and greater agricultural intensity often show greater support for new wind farm installations.

In Alberta, Premier Danielle Smith claimed threats to farmland to impose a seven-month moratorium on renewable energy projects. Experts had been hoping the moratorium’s end in late February would present an opportunity for the energy and agriculture sectors to join forces. But instead, the ban was lifted with a new restriction against renewable energy projects on prime farmland, with no indication that similar measures would affect fossil fuel projects.

Yet the decisions on prime farmland “reflect the practices our members are already employing in Alberta,” Evan Wilson, the Canadian Renewable Energy Association’s vice president of policy for western Canada, told The Energy Mix after the ban was announced.

Wind energy “is already easily co-located with agricultural use,” he added, and solar developers “have come a long way in the development of agrivoltaics” to ensure that food and clean electricity production complement each other.”


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