Farmland being lost to industrial solar zones

By Marg Bruineman, Barry Examiner

Bernard Pope looks at a farm field pushing up corn and shakes his head.

“Now tell me that isn’t good farm land,” he says with disdain. “All that property is going to be solar.  The land next to it just had grain taken off it.”

The farm, just outside Midhurst on Concession 2 in Oro-Medonte Township, is one of 10 in the area where California company, Recurrent Energy, wants to install a solar operation. About 75 acres of that property will be covered in solar panels instead of corn and other crops for the next 30 years.

Pope, a farmer with a day job whose Bass Lake property is within walking distance of three of the proposals, says in its zest, provincial organizations are moving too rapidly with its solar plans. While some land is not useful for much else, the projects he’s been eyeing are going to be taking good farmland out of production for an awfully long time.

One of the properties, he says, has been farmed since 1828. He warns that, while the program has merits, it is littered with flaws that, once implemented can’t be reversed.

And it lays the foundation for further mistakes.

Pope travels along Doran Road, just east of Midhurst, pointing to the open land on both sides.

All of it has been sold to speculators.

With farms in the area fetching up to $2 million for 100 acres, some local farmers are retiring in a comfort they couldn’t access in their working lives.

The investors hope to someday build homes in the area and they are happy to wait, 10, even 20 years, watching the land further increase in value. The farmers continue to work the land, in the interim.

Pope says there’s nothing he can do about the loss of farm land in development areas. But the solar initiative on farms is in its infancy and should be checked before it matures.

The best farmland, Classes 1 and 2, can’t be used for wholesale solar production and Class 3 is limited to 500 kilowatts. Everything else, up to Class 7 the worst land to farm, are open to solar development.

Those opposing solar projects say there are flaws with the land designation -an old classification that is too broad and doesn’t necessarily reflect the current status of the land.

Pope suggests each proposed property should be independently assessed before the go-ahead is given for solar production.

“They just seem to be going into something that’s too good to be true,” said Pope. “It hasn’t been researched properly.

“The government is moving ahead too quickly, with a policy with too many holes in it.”

To move the process along, the Green Energy Act removes the approval process typically required from the municipality. No re-zoning is required. While public meetings and reports are necessary, all approvals are done on the provincial level.

This too, is a concern.

“What the province did… is they took the municipal approval away,” said Andria Leigh, director of development services for Oro-Medonte Township. “It is a bit of a concern for the municipality.”

There are worries that the proposals remove good farmland from production. There are also worries that some of the solar instalments could adversely affect adjoining property – largely homes on severed lots.

Council has heard from both Recurrent Energy about its four proposals in the township as well as Pope. And the municipality is encouraged by the comp a n y’s promise to return to council once some studies are completed.

But the company isn’t required to report to municipality or even deal with it unless it wants to put up a structure under the building code.

The municipality knows that there is an appeal mechanism, but everything’s so new, it’s not clear what that mechanism is and how it will work.

Leigh said the municipality would prefer to just get everything done right in the first place and not go the route of an appeal.

“There’s nothing to look at as comparable,” she said.

Mayor Harry Hughes says there are more questions, it seems, than answers. And Oro- Medonte isn’t satisfied with the responses it’s received so far.

“Whether it has to go on farmland at all is a question,” he said.

One unanswered question is the impact to the township’s bottom line. A manufacturing facility or an industry would command a tax rate different than land zoned agricultural. Since the zoning process has been removed from the municipality, how solar production farms will compensate the municipality for use of its services is unclear.

“We’ve asked the question, but we’ve never received an answer,” said Hughes. “The concern is… where this whole thing is going.

“We don’t know how long it’s going to go on for… or if there’s going to be more.”

There are also questions about the practical application of the project. Hughes wants to know how high the panels will be off the ground. If they’re high enough, maybe the land can continue to be used for sheep grazing, he muses. That, at least, will keep the land useable and somewhat viable in the future for farming. If the panels are too low, their use could well be paralyzed in the winter by snow build up, he furthers.

“As I look out of my living room window, I will be looking out at a solar farm,” concludes Hughes, who lives on Line 6, north of Highway 11.

10 thoughts on “Farmland being lost to industrial solar zones

  1. Is Recurrent Energy a LLC ? If so they might be able to just walk away form this project after they have “milked” all the money they can from the project.

    It’s just plain foolish to install solar on a commercial scale this far north. Doubt this would be done without government subsidies. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. “It’s just plain foolish to install solar on a commercial scale this far north.”

    Agreed!

    Furthermore, it is just plain foolish to install ANY commercial green energy construct!

    But then, the Liberals are so hell bent to steal away as much of OUR MONEY to their greedy green friends before the next election, who cares if we can’t grow our own food anymore!

    We can eat cake!

    The wind turbines will drive the people from the land anyway; you may as well cover the space in between with solar panels. Who cares if plants can no longer grow and lock in CO2 while releasing oxygen?

    Who needs oxygen anyway!? it’s over rated!

    A win-win situation; we can all starve in the dark while gasping for breath!

    Didn’t Germany just put the kybosh on all new solar development on agricultural land?
    Wait a minute; didn’t Germany recently put the kybosh on ALL green energy development?

    Maybe there is hope for us yet…

    I’m not holding my breath!

    B.B.W.

  3. This whole “green” thing has gotten so crazy and out of control. Who in their right mind takes out good farmland for solar panels, but then again who in their right mind sticks up a bunch of wind turbines before asking “does it work efficiently”, “Will they be economically feasible” without taxpayer money?, “Are they safe and don’t cause health problems?”.
    No, why bother worrying about whether something actually works — just put it in call it “green” and it’s got to be good.

  4. Recurrent Energy is building a solar project outside Strathroy and no one here can understand the justification either. The project is approved for land that has been reclassified into cat.#3, though the old soil surveys from the 1930’s which were based on actual soil samples, would have it in Class 1 or 2 – and for very good reason. The subject property is in a transition zone and is a sand/silt loam of excellent tilth and production. The “trick” that Recurrent has used is, “satellite imagery” for soil sample determination – with some “necessary extrapolation”. Sort of like the temperature extrapolations done in the arctic regions where the “temperature grid” for one station expands out some 600km or so.
    There you have it, all nice and easy. Computer modelling is so creative and so much fun – especially when you’re making money. Data integrity? – so yesterday!

  5. Harvey:

    They cannot (won’t / could not) get away with this unless the MOE permits it — via permission from their political masters.

    The only explanation I can fathom is that the Liberals believe that history will see them as “Hero Environmentalists” — of “Star Trekkian” mien, and that their names will be recorded in history as having single-handedly saved the planet from humanity. It kinda reminds me of those old bad jokes of how the communist village had to be destroyed (with all its inhabitants) to save it from a fate worse than death under communism. In other words you are dealing with fruit-loops of no mean delusions of and illusions of grandeur.

    It’s time to shoo the children out of the sandbox and enforce their bedtime rules!

  6. The consumption of water at solar sites should be addressed. Dust created by vegetation free soil under the panels and rainwater runoff and erosion should also be questioned. Dust on the panels has to be cleaned off and cooling to improve efficiency is done with water. Where is this supply of water coming from? Anyone on well systems may be surprised at how much water is consumed at some solar sites. Promises of returning the sites to agriculture after may be a dream as some sites are sterilized for years after decommissioning. Farm land is basically lost. We don’t eat power, so less food produced locally means higher food costs. How many jobs lost?

  7. Zen:

    There is always bio-fuel right?

    After it is ruined we can give it to the new Bio-Massters…

    Have a look at this…
    http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/5232

    “The New Biomassters – Synthetic Biology and the Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods is a critique of what OECD countries are calling ‘the new bioeconomy.’ Concerted attempts are already underway to shift industrial production feedstocks from fossil fuels to the 230 billion tones of ‘biomass’ (living stuff) that the Earth produces every year -not just for liquid fuels but also for production of power, chemicals, plastics and more.

    Sold as an ecological switch from a ‘black carbon’ (ie fossil) economy to a ‘green carbon’ (plant-based) economy, this emerging bioeconomy is in fact a red-hot resource grab of the lands, livelihoods, knowledge and resources of peoples in the global South, where most of that biomass is located.”

    ***********************

    Good Luck!

  8. Bio-carbon indeed!

    Eating is way over-rated anyway!

    Meat is bad for you!

    Veggies are good for you but hey, the land is needed to grow carbon!

    Bye,bye livestock!

    Bye, bye veggies!

    Bye, bye trees!

    “God speed mother nature! Never really wanted to say goodbye!”

    Oh damn! here I go quoting song artisits again…

    Somebody STOP ME!

    B.B.W

  9. David:

    I downloaded the PDF from the link you provided and read only the first page.

    Incredible! I have sent it off to the mass media… Likely to no avail!

    And to think that we ALREADY HAVE well developed and understood technology that can supply 100% of the pollution free energy all of humanity will ever need forever and we refuse to use it for no reason other then political stupidity! (IFRs)

    Ya know, with abject greed rampant throughout the overwhelming majority of those controlling humanity today, most days it really sucks to be human!

    We’re definitely screwed!

    B.B.W.

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