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Climate Change & Conservation eNews

Renewables

Solar Farm Screenshot
video screenshot

Solar installation—Matsuda Farm

Local land trust's projects and creative solutions to climate change speak volumes about how they see their role in the climate crisis.

Does your land trust have an opportunity to install solar on its lands as part of an overall project, and education strategy?

The Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust is passionate about conserving land to protect the natural ecosystems and rural character of their islands amidst today’s rampant development. They created a video to talk about a solar installation on a farm they own and how it relates to their conservation goals.

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Solar And Ranchers
Dennis Schroeder/NREL

Beneath solar panels, the seeds of opportunity sprout

“On a humid, overcast day in central Minnesota, a dozen researchers crouch in the grass between rows of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Only their bright yellow hard hats are clearly visible above the tall, nearly overgrown prarie grasses—which are growing exactly as expected.

Bent over white, square frames, some of the researchers catalog the number and type of native plants growing on a square foot of land. Others press double-forked meters into the ground, measuring the soil moisture below the solar panels and in open ground. Nearby, beekeepers check on the health of local hives.

Their research is part of an ongoing study to quantify the benefits of a new approach to solar installations: low-impact solar development…”

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Many Solar Panels
Creative Commons

Panel discussion: Integrated Energy Research on Agriculture & Water Challenges

Check out these slides from this detailed panel hosted by the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis just a few weeks ago…

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Solar Farmer And Kale
DENNIS SCHROEDER/NREL

Can farmland fix solar power’s real estate problem?

“The farmers we work with are facing the reality of not wanting to sell their farms, but they have a developer knocking on the door...There’s an opportunity to leverage [agrivoltaics] so we can do [elevated] ground-mounted solar without taking any farmland off the table..."

Rooftop panels are great, but there just isn’t enough viable rooftop space for solar to take a meaningful bite out of carbon emissions in the US. For that, the country needs utility-scale solar farms, which can take up a lot of space—they could occupy an area the size of Connecticut by 2030, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

There needn’t be a trade-off between crops and electrons, [Chad] Higgins said; they can grow in tandem. Elevated solar panels installed above crops (so-called “agrivoltaics”) can provide an extra income stream for farmers if they lease the space for them to solar companies. And they can yield benefits for the farm itself: the shade can actually boost the yield of vegetables, decrease water consumption, and preserve the ability of soil to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, according to an ongoing National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study. The study’s pilot sites have also found ways to combine solar with cattle and goat grazing, as well as apiaries for bees…

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Land
Brad Kreps

Conservation group plots solar potential for retired Appalachian coal mine land

Land trusts are recognizing that energy production, and transitioning off fossil fuels, is a key aspect of de-carbonizing our energy needs; which, in turn, is central to ensuring that the lands and waters we conserve survive for generations to come. That often means new, innovative partnerships.

In 2016, Wells [the regional director of community and economic development for Appalachian Voices] spearheaded the formation of the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia to figure out how to incorporate renewable energy into an economic transition in the state’s seven coalfield counties.

It’s a coalition of nonprofits, community action agencies, colleges, state agencies, and planning district commissions. Workgroup members are in the midst of jump-starting more than a dozen rooftop solar projects stalled by a number of obstacles.

“The notion of solar farms being part of a reclamation plan has been flirted with for years and years,” said Wells, a Wise County native…

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Solar And Flowers
Center for Pollinators in Energy

Purdue entomologist, green groups laud solar farm for native ground cover plan

Local efforts can make or break compatible renewable projects: Riverstart Solar Park, first announced in 2018, would include 670,000 photovoltaic solar panels on 1,400 acres in southwest Randolph County and produce enough energy to power about 37,000 households—the largest such project in the state. The company was waiting for the ordinance to be enacted before starting construction.

Julie Borgmann, director of Muncie-based Red-tail Land Conservancy, spoke in favor of the pollinator-friendly provisions at several meetings of county government and also collaborated with the other supporters, including the Hoosier Environmental Council.

In an interview, she noted that, while it’s taken her land trust two decades to protect 2,700 acres of land in East Central Indiana, “this single solar farm” can “really have a huge impact on habitat for bugs, birds…and it goes on down the (ecosystem) line.”

Brock Harpur, an assistant professor of entomology at Purdue, called the new ordinance “a massive step forward for pollinator conservation in this state”…

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2019 Norton Rescue Training
Chelsea Barnes / Appalachian Voices

Appalachian solar advocates continue efforts despite setbacks, pandemic

A solar workgroup is retooling its approach and hopeful that Virginia’s new clean energy law will help overcome obstacles…

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tulips
Creative Commons

Cultivating communities where people and nature thrive together

This is an interesting organization that is using an integrated farm project as a tool for change and action. Land trusts across the country could emulate and incorporate some of these ideas into their partnerships and land conservation strategies.

The Community Ecology Institute (CEI’)s Climate of Hope project includes three innovation areas, described below: 1) Climate Aware Agriculture featuring Renewable Energy Integration; 2) Cultivating Climate Victory Gardens; and 3) Community Climate Change Education…

Climate of Hope will offer accessible, science-based, action-focused climate change education for the community. [They] offer eight community events at [their] farm on a range of topics from climate victory gardening (and the associated carbon-capturing practices), to composting, energy efficiency, community solar, and more.

[They] also offer customized offsite presentations to eight diverse community organizations including HOAs, faith organizations, school groups, and businesses. These events will be designed to inspire participants and provide strategies and tools for sustained positive climate action.

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Sustainable Solutions
Creative Commons

Our energy future

Land trusts are recognizing that energy production, and transitioning off fossil fuels, is a key aspect of de-carboning our energy needs; which, in turn, is central to ensuring that the lands and waters we conserve survive for generations to come. That often means new, innovative partnerships.

Driftless Area Land Conservancy [DALC] along with dedicated area activists has created Iowa County CLEA-N, Clean Local Energy Alliance—Now. CLEA-N’s mission is to explore options for and engage in initiatives to advance the local ownership and control of a clean energy future in Iowa County, and to lay the groundwork for the creation of an Energy District through which the vision of that future can be realized.

CLEA-N & DALC—Working Hand-in-Hand on Common Goals

Climate disruption affects every aspect of the work at DALC. CLEA-N’s efforts to lower fossil fuel emissions and to sequester excess atmospheric carbon supports DALC’s land conservation work. As this new organization gets off the ground, DALC will be a significant stabilizing and guiding partner…

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Grass
Beaufort County Open Land Trust

Beaufort County Solar Facility first in the state to be permanently protected

Land trusts are recognizing that solar and conservation goals can work together, especially if considering the negative impacts of climate change on the lands and waters they are working to conserve. Solar developments have to be well-designed to minimize impact on soils and related conservation goals; solar developers are increasingly interested in finding the most sustainable path of energy and land conservation.

In a first of its kind deal for South Carolina, Beaufort County Open Land Trust announced the closing of a conservation easement on land owned by an affiliate of Adger Solar LLC, on which the Seabrook solar energy generation facility in Beaufort County resides.

The 72-megawatt facility, owned by Dominion Energy, is sited on a rural 628-acre property and is the first designated solar energy facility in South Carolina to be on land protected permanently by a conservation easement. The project is expected to be in service in 2020 and will provide enough energy to power 9,000 homes for the next 25 years. The agreement allows for the land to be used for farming, timber, or other rural uses if energy production ends.

“Our landscape in Beaufort County is changing and how we think about land use is changing too. What was once a tomato farm will now help support the growing clean energy industry,” commented Kristin Williams, executive director, Beaufort County Open Land Trust. “Our goal is to ensure that over the long-term, these sites vulnerable to residential, commercial, and industrial development, are permanently protected…”

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