Erik Hoffner: Solar panels not a good use of farmland – The Recorder

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A field of solar panels along West Bay Road in Amherst.

As an environmental journalist covering energy and agriculture issues for years now for news outlets ranging from Grist to The Guardian and, I can assure Recorder readers that the assertion by the UMass engineering professor about siting solar energy projects on farms lacks enough context [“Moratoriums on large-scale solar, battery storage approved at Town Meeting,” Recorder, May 8].

It’s not a very useful comparison to make between growing corn for ethanol vs using that same land to host solar arrays, since manufacturing ethanol from corn is a very inefficient and climate-negative way create fuel: look up the 2022 Reuters article “U.S. corn-based ethanol worse for the climate than gasoline, study finds” for background, but in my general view, solar arrays ought to be sited on land otherwise unsuitable for agriculture, like brownfields, rooftops, and over parking lots.

Local farmland is a key aspect of Valley communities’ resilience, our soils are top notch, and it doesn’t make much sense to cover so much of it with solar arrays, thereby making residents more reliant on produce trucked here all the way from California, for instance, where much of our food comes from at certain times of the year. Farm families obviously need to profit from their land, but one wonders if there are better ways forward that can ensure a steady supply of green electrons into the local grid, plus an ongoing plethora of local foods from prospering farms.

Erik Hoffner


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