Farm advocate says MN green energy mandate threatens prime ag land
Wanda Patsche’s profile on social media refers to her as a commonsense corn, soybean and hog farmer who hopes to “bridge the disconnect consumers have with where their food comes from.” Unfortunately, Patsche’s latest Minnesota Farm Living newsletter on Substack reveals just how wide that disconnect has become between DFL politicians running the show in St. Paul and those who work the land.
Recently, my mother-in-law received a letter from a company that wants to put solar panels on her farm. It just happens to be a piece of land directly across the road from where I live. A piece of land that we have helped farm for well over 40 years. And . . . it’s a very good piece of land and one of our most productive.
This company wants to put solar panels on it. Why are they inquiring? Because our Minnesota Legislature has enacted a Clean Energy bill that will force Minnesota into 100 percent clean energy by 2040. This is resulting in the need for a significant increase in renewable energy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against renewable energy. I am against the idea of being forced into that arena when we are not ready to move that fast.
But the solar salesmen from the cities don’t want just any parcel from her extended family’s farm near Welcome in southern Minnesota. Only the best.
So in order to meet the goal, our state needs more solar panels and windmills. The forecast is the state will lose 55,000 acres of farmland. When I initially heard 55,000 acres, I was thinking, “Oh, they will install the solar panels on marginal land.”
They want and need PRIME farmland. And guess what? Many landowners will take them up on it because they will pay $1300 per year per acre when the going rate for rent is $300-$375 acre. They will even pay property taxes. What do you think this is going to do to farmers who rent land and their landlord is lured into this offer? Yep, unfair competition. Farmers cannot compete.
One of Patsche’s readers also sounded the warning bell about the potential threat to land supposedly protected under conservation easements.
We’ve been contacted several times about putting solar farms on our highly productive crop land. We offered to sell a piece of marginal land for the project, they declined. The lease is 15 years, the lifespan of the panels. The landowner is responsible for removal and restoration of the land. It will never be productive crop land again. The support pilings are driven deep in the ground, there are thousands of feet of buried electrical cable, toxic heavy metals leach from the panels into the soil. The estimated cost of removal alone is more than the lease payment. Buyer beware. Minnesota has a permanent easement on thousands of acres of grassland (RIM). It would be an ideal option for solar farms, and would be a simple legislative process to implement.
Besides removing valuable farmland from production, the state’s solar mandate and taxpayer subsidies threaten the livelihood of those who want to farm the land but cannot afford the out-of-whack cost of renting it.
It will be painful to see productive farmland turned into non-productive land. No doubt there will probably be other unintended consequences that I am not aware of.
Honestly, I don’t have an answer. I believe in private property rights. But here is an example of ramifications of such crazy legislation. And you know what? This is an example where our state legislators are out of touch with rural Minnesota. So what do we do?