County board arranges solar energy presentation
ESCANABA — As the debate about solar in Delta County rages on, the county commission has called an expert to educate the public about how agriculture and solar generation can coexist.
“I’m an educator, I’m not a regulator. I just want to come in and present research-based information that can help people make informed decisions,” said Michigan State University Extension Bioenergy Educator Charles Gould, who will be giving a presentation on solar and agriculture on May 23.
Gould’s presentation will focus on types of “dual use” practices that allow solar energy production to integrate with farming practices. These include creating conservation cover, which creates habitat for the conservation of specific species; providing livestock grazing and foraging areas; creating pollinator habitats; and “agrivoltaics,” which is the technical term for growing food, fiber or fuels under solar arrays.
“It really doesn’t make sense just to put a solar project out there and just harvest solar energy when you’ve got land that you can utilize for other things. So I’m coming from the premise that ag and solar is not a zero-sum proposition. You don’t have to have only solar at the expense of agriculture; you don’t have to have only agriculture at the expense of solar,” said Gould.
According to Gould, livestock grazing is one of the common ways that agriculture and solar energy systems co-exist in the United States. What that looks like largely depends on the type of animal grazing — for example, cattle may need solar panels to be raised off the ground higher than sheep or goats — but this type of farming can help solar energy systems be more productive, as the animals keep foliage from growing over solar panels.
Gould will also talk about different types of solar systems that can be useful for specific agricultural needs, such as vertical bifacial solar arrays that can be used as fencing, and how local ordinances can be structured to promote sustainable agriculture while still opening the doors to solar power.
“We need a paradigm shift because right now, solar comes in and agriculture is an after thought. What we need to do is say agriculture first, we still want solar, but this is how solar fits,” he said.
Gould will also address some of the concerns residents may have with the safety of solar panels, including what, if any, impact there may be on ground water.
“We’ve got so much research. There’s no PFAS contamination, there’s no heavy metals, there’s no mercury. You know, these things don’t leak. They don’t give off emissions. They’re not air pollutants. They’re not hot,” said Gould.
Gould hopes that those attending his presentation Tuesday will come with an open mind, a willingness to find common ground, and a desire to ask questions.
“If we don’t grow our own food, our food’s going to come from countries that don’t have the same values that we do, and we know that we need an energy source that’s sustainable. So let’s not mortgage the farm for solar when we can still grow our own crops and still … grow our own livestock. It takes some faith, but it can be done,” he said.
Gould’s presentation will take place at the County Service Center on May 23, during a special committee of the whole meeting at 5:30 p.m.