Appalachian Land & Conservation Services Co., LLC

Where Conservation & the Marketplace Meet

ALCS Landowner Questionnaire: When is Solar Right for My Land?

March 1, 2022

When Is Industrial Solar Right For My Property?

A Decision Making Aid for Pennsylvania Landowners
Presently, despite low potential solar energy production, landowners in Pennsylvania and other northeastern states are being inundated with efforts and offers to build industrial-size solar panel arrays (“community solar”) on our land. It is a huge impact on our landscape and requires careful consideration. With such low solar energy production, it is difficult to understand why our lands are in such demand for large solar arrays, and how these arrays are going to pay for themselves over time.

Sometimes new industries involve investing in “lost leaders,” and we hope that our beautiful rural landscapes are not being used by big corporations to score big government solar subsidies in the short term, with little care for the impacts later on.  No one wants their land to be used like that, and very few land owners want their land to be a sacrificial lamb in some larger global corporate competition. After all, our Pennsylvania farmland and forests are close to large eastern seaboard population centers, meaning that we are able to provide important food and fiber to people with minimal transportation costs.

Sometimes the offers to build a solar array involve a lot of money up front, and sometimes the promised pay-off is years away. Whatever money is promised, there are a lot of questions that a landowner owes himself before he makes a commitment. After all, the impact of industrial solar arrays on our land is enormous. It completely alters farmland and forest into metal and glass. Farm crops and forest products cease growing on these places. Some people are experimenting with raising bees among their solar array panels, but large amounts of herbicides are used to keep vegetation from growing around the solar panels, so it is difficult to imagine what flowers the bees will use to make honey.

Questions like What do I want my land and my community to look like? Are there other ways to make money from my land that do not involve covering it in metal and glass? Is solar power really as “sustainable” as is claimed by the people seeking to use my land? Will I still get paid if the solar array stops working?

Below is a decision making chart designed to aid landowners to decide which way they want to go with industrial solar arrays. This is not exhaustive, it is just a good place to begin. You can probably add some of your own concerns or questions to this list, or cross a few of these off. Like any careful decision process, evaluating the trade-offs involved before making a commitment will result in a decision you are happy with now, and probably later.


 Don't Care

I Care a Little

 I Really Care


 Do you farm?





Farm income





 Do you grow timber?





 Timber income





 Your land's scenic appearance





Your community's appearance





 Do you hunt?





 Do you lease to hunters?





 Other outdoor recreation





 Future development value (homes, quarry, gas)





 Wildlife viewing





 Who cleans up the solar array?





 Maintenance crews invade my privacy





 Total Score






 Build solar!

 Solar possibly right choice

Solar probably not right choice


Solar Industrialization of Central Pennsylvania Farmland’s Renewable Uses
A Relative Land Use Efficiency Ranking and Implied Cost-Benefit Outcome

Written for the South Mountain Partnership’s Solar Working Group

February 11, 2022
Central PA farmland is highly productive Class I-IV soils
● Central PA farmland is close to high demand eastern seaboard populations, reducing production costs and transportation costs
● Central PA farmland is irreplaceable: Insufficient regional sunlight to create sci-fi mountainside hydroponic greenhouses that could offset agricultural production lost to permanent industrial solar arrays on farmland
● South Mountain and most of Central Pennsylvania falls in the 2-4 KwH/M²/day range in January, compared to the American Southwest with 5-6
● South Mountain and most of Central Pennsylvania falls in the 5-6 KwH/M²/day range in June-July-August, compared to the American Mid-West and West with 6-10  (see attached map of USA solar strength)
●Weighted values in chart below demonstrate that actual value of solar is low, even though initial cash payments to land owners may be high
●Assume ten year horizon for industrial solar “farms” that are probably indefinite or semi-permanent
●Pennsylvania is among the weakest USA solar potential. The South Mountain area is very slightly more than the lowest solar strength in America.
●The benefits of the current industrial solar push are lower than the costs it imposes. * indicates non-renewable land uses like housing development
●If solar is such a poor investment, then why is it being pushed so hard? Who benefits from this bad investment? Who loses?
●Very weak solar power potential in Pennsylvania/ SMA begs the question of why such a strenuous effort is made to cover our farmland in metal, plastic, glass? What larger objective is being sought? If solar power here is weak, then how are these huge investments justified What is their ROI? ? How is the investment being paid for? Paying for itself? Is our farmland being used as a lost leader in the building of a larger industry angling for big subsidies?
●Bonding needed for cleanup
In sum: Is the big sales job push to install industrial solar right now on pristine Northeastern open space a fad, or a solid financial investment backed by long term performance? Industrial solar has the potential to destroy a great deal of important farmland, damage watersheds, and eliminate human and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation, with questionable benefits beyond just the initial landowner payment. Industrial solar in the USA northeast is a lot like the past big wind power farms fad that wrecked remote, pristine, untouched mountaintop ecosystems across Pennsylvania, only to hardly produce much electricity in the end. The concepts of sustainability and renewability that mountaintop wind power presented proved to have a huge environmental cost. The same dynamic is in play now with industrial solar.
Download and print the Solar Industrialization of Central Pennsylvania Farmland’s Renewable Uses publication and chart.

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Appalachian is a small, nimble firm specializing in real estate projects that yield high returns in conservation value.  We are particular about the projects we work on, and are always open to new ideas.  Sometimes the most unlikely ideas work out the best!


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Appalachian Land & Conservation Services Co., LLC

P.O. Box 5128

Harrisburg, PA 17110

Phone: (717) 232-8335