Since the 1830s Iowa farmers have made their own decisions about how to make a living and support their families with the land they own.
Respect for that tradition has endured. Today, 67% of Iowa voters (74% in Linn County) agree that “farmers should not be told by the government what to do with their land; they have the right to use their land how they choose: including to develop renewable energy projects.”
Whose choice should it be to harvest corn, soybeans, or the sun? Both tradition and present-day Iowans alike say, “the farmer!”
Farmers may choose to use a portion of their fields to grow energy for a variety of reasons. One of those is that solar leases provide 30 years of financial security, not dependent on weather, that allows them to keep farming the rest of their land and keep it in their families.
Let’s be clear: If a farmer doesn’t want to lease his or her land for solar energy, they shouldn’t be forced to. Neither solar farm in Linn County uses eminent domain.
At the same time, if farmers decide that leasing their land for solar will help support their families, we shouldn’t stop them. That ability for a farmer to make that decision for him or herself is at the heart of property rights – and we shouldn’t take that away.
But some people do. They want to veto private property decisions. “What about the neighbors?” they ask.
Let’s look at that.
Solar farms make no noise. They bring no traffic. They require no new water or sewer lines. They create no odor or pollution. They sit lower than a one-story house. As a creator of economic growth for the entire county, at an estimated $154 million, you couldn’t ask for a better neighbor.
Further, both projects and Linn County are taking an approach that balances property rights with neighbor concerns. The setbacks – the distance the panels are placed from a neighbor’s property line – is 300 feet. That’s more distance than most jurisdictions around the country provide.
In addition to the distance, the panels will be screened by vegetation placed by the solar developers. Developers will also plant vegetation under the panels, preventing erosion. At the end of the projects, when the panels are removed, the vegetative growth will be tilled and broken up, enhancing topsoil condition and helping to rejuvenate the land.
Another concern – fears of declining property values – have proven to be unfounded. There are numerous studies showing that having a solar farm as a neighbor doesn’t depress resale value. One such survey, of 400 property value assessors nationwide, found that most respondents believe that proximity to a solar installation either has a positive impact, or no impact at all on home values.
We all value property rights – and any move to override a private landowner’s rights to decide for themselves the best way to use his or her land should not be taken lightly. The burden of proof must be on those who seek to take that right away. The objections to solar farms simply do not meet that burden, and reasonable concerns are being addressed. The solar farms being proposed in Linn County balance the needs of property owners and neighbors. Our county is a model for how this can be done elsewhere in Iowa.