Last month, Jake Clark, Encore’s VP of Development, testified before the Vermont Senate Committee on Agriculture as a part of an effort to advance a statutory change to categorize solar as an allowed use in agricultural wetland areas, sometimes referred to as wet meadows. Currently, the Vermont Wetland Rules do not permit solar arrays in agricultural wetland areas. The purpose of this testimony was to educate the Senators on the benefits of solar on agricultural wetland areas, specifically the value of solar to dairy and other farmers and how solar is a less intensive land use than the existing agricultural use.
Farming in these agricultural wetlands often involves plowing for planting of row crops, application of fertilizer (manure), and tractors and other farm equipment running through the wetlands multiple times per year, in order to support hay or corn production. Alternatively, pastured agricultural wetlands involve cows or other pastoral animals directly impacting the wetlands, and depositing manure directly into the wetlands.
Solar deployed in agricultural wetland areas would not involve any of these adverse impacts to the wetlands after construction. Solar actually improves the wetland values and functions in these areas, resulting in healthier soil, cleaner water, and higher functioning wetlands. Additionally, solar can provide an additional source of income, as agricultural wetland areas are often the least productive fields for the farmers for crop production. The solar use benefits the landowner or farmer by bringing in substantially more income than the agricultural use – and this economic benefit could be valuable to dairy and other farming landowners.
Finally, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) agrees with the solar community that the solar would be an improvement to the agricultural wetlands compared to intensive farming use. The solar community and the ANR wetlands program staff have been struggling with the wetlands rules and solar in these settings for years, and a statutory change would provide the wetlands staff with a streamlined process for appropriately permitting solar in these agricultural wetlands.
The bottomline is that solar in agricultural wetlands is good for the wetland, good for clean water, good for the farmer, eliminates conflicts with the wetlands rules, and good for achieving Vermont’s statutorily mandated clean energy goals.
Encore and Renewable Energy Vermont are proposing that the Vermont Agency of Agriculture convene a stakeholder group with the ANR and the solar community to develop a proposed solution which can be passed into law.