Statement by ALCS on Open Landscape Resources vs. Industrial Solar
April 7, 2022
As a member of the South Mountain Partnership's Solar Working Group, ALCS president Josh First shared the following statement with the group.
South Mountain Partnership Solar Working Group
Cultural Resources Committee
Reflection on Solar Zoning Policy Discussions
Submitted by Josh at www.appalachianland.us
Reasonable concerns are being raised about industrial/commercial-sized solar installations on Pennsylvania (and New York, Maryland, New Jersey) farmland and forests. The environmental and scenic destruction these industrial installations inflict are already well known, in addition to eliminating wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, and agricultural access to prime soils needed to grow the annual food and fiber a self-sustaining nation requires. They also create stormwater runoff problems that undermine a lot of hard work done to heal the Chesapeake Bay.
Watching the unquestioning or dismissive zeal with which the current industrial solar installation is built on open land reminds us of the same sort of zeal with which huge industrial wind turbines were implemented across Pennsylvania’s most rural and sensitive mountaintop landscapes twenty years ago. With very little analysis that I can recall, wind turbines received tremendous government subsidies and were then subsequently placed in remote, previously pristine mountaintop locations. Today many of those same wind turbines now sit idle amidst huge swaths of stiltgrass, mile-a-minute, and other destructive non-native invasive weeds introduced by the heavy machinery that cleared off the previously untouched mountaintops that had held rare relict glacial ecosystems for 20,000 years. The service roads to the idle turbines now ferry unmitigated ATV riders, who “mud” in the few remaining mountaintop vernal ponds, thus eliminating rare and endangered amphibians.
Why are so many of our “sustainable” magic wind turbines idle or barely productive? Because they were and remain expensive to manufacture, emplace, and maintain. And quite a few were placed in areas with variable winds that could not possibly generate the kind of consistent electricity generation needed for the consistent, steady base load people with rechargeable electric cars (and hospitals, schools, homes, businesses) require.
From the past industrial wind power stampede we can learn some rules to apply to this new rush towards industrial solar installations on open land in mild temperate regions with minimal solar potential. Such as, will these installations actually generate the power needed to make them a successful individual investment in solar energy? If the installation can’t pencil out in terms of energy income, then we know off the bat that they will end up just like the idle wind turbines, monuments to our emotional desire for sustainable energy at any cost, even an environmental cost that we will rue paying years from now.
All of our rural landscapes are our cultural resources and heritage. They deserve as much care and due diligence as we intelligent humans can muster before we scratch them off the surface of our planet for short terms gains that only “pencil out” because of an aggregation of government subsidies and foreign investment that may only be a lost leader in some grander game for market share.