Solar Farms: Protecting Homes, Property Value, Views & the Environment While Reaping Solar Energy Benefits
In this webpage we offer advice for protecting a home, views, farm, forest and the value of your property from a poorly planned solar farm project. Our goal is not to stifle the expansion of solar energy but to guide these essential facilities to sites where we can reap the benefits without causing undue harm to others. We also explain how to resolve solar farm impacts on marginal sites. So, read on or please contact us at 410-654-3021 or Rklein@ceds.org if you have an urgent question or don’t have time to wade through this webpage. You may also wish to consider engaging CEDS to conduct the Initial Strategy Analysis described at the end of this webpage. To see examples of CEDS successes in resolving solar farm concerns visit: https://ceds.org/success%20examples/#solar. In the meantime, our best advice though is this: Please do not hesitate, act today, because delay almost always impedes success.
WHAT IS A SOLAR FARMA solar farm, also known as a solar garden and by other names, usually covers several acres of land with solar panels as opposed to small solar panel installations on home rooftops or adjoining yards. The solar farms which tend to cause concern are the larger installation generating two megawatts or more. A megawatt is sufficient to power 150 to 200 homes. Since four- to eight-acres of photovoltaic panels are needed to produce one megawatt of energy most farms cover 8- to 16-acres or more. In our home state of Maryland, solar farms cover 6- to 130-acres.
RESOLVING IMPACTS THROUGH NEGOTIATION vs. KILLING A SOLAR FARMThere are two widespread perception:
- The only way to prevent impacts is to kill a proposal, and
- It’s easy to kill proposals like a solar farm.
- Most of impacts can be resolved in ways that allow a fundamentally sound project to proceed,
- A successful negotiation allows society to benefit from increased solar energy generation, and
- Most successful negotiations can be completely for a fraction of the $20,000 to $100,000 it costs to roll the dice in hopes of beating the overwhelming odds and killing a project.
SOLAR FARMS & PRESERVING THE VIEW FROM YOUR HOMEThe most common issue prompting solar farm opposition is replacing a view of forest or other natural settings with row upon row of photovoltaic (PV) panels.
Measures to Screen Solar Farms from ViewFrequently PV panels can be screened from view with a combination of earth berms landscaped with rapidly growing evergreen trees like those pictured below. Ideally, the view from your home would be preserved with these screening measures placed along the solar farm perimeter. However, this may not be sufficient if your home overlooks a solar site. In this case you may wish to consider negotiating with the applicant to install screening measures at the edge of your property. As illustrated in the photos below, some evergreen species are very effective at preserving views while others are not. Determining which measures will effectively preserve views from your home can get complicated. The first step is to carry out a viewshed or sightline analysis, an example of which follows. This analysis showed that planting 8-foot high trees would screen the panels from view, provided they grew densely, were evegreen and required minimal maintenance. The sightline also showed the trees should not grow so tall as to obstruct the mountain view. If you wish, CEDS can do the analysis for you as part of the Initial Strategy Analysis described at the end of this webpage.
Negotiating for Screening MeasuresSo, how do you get those proposing a solar farm to agree to these measures? Well, when faced with a choice between these measures and fighting you and your neighbors in court most solar farm companies will jump at the measures. The reason being that refusing to take these relatively inexpensive measures can harm the applicant’s ability to gain approvals. Also, well-funded opposition could tie up a project in appeals for years. The reverse is also true. Launching a campaign to kill a solar farm can cost you and your neighbors tens of thousands of dollars with a low-probability of success, which is why we urge you to negotiate first. For further advice see the CEDS Equitable Solutions webpage and Chapter 37: Negotiate with the Applicant in our free 300-page book How to Win Land Development Issues.
Ensuring Measures Will Be MaintainedIf you reach an agreement on measures to preserve views or to resolve other issues, then it is critical that they be made binding on current and future solar farm property owners. Otherwise you may end up with a situation like that pictured below. Note the double row of dead trees adjoining the solar panels above. These trees were likely part of a buffer intended to screen the panels from the view of those traveling on the adjacent road. This photo illustrates why guarantees must be in place that ensure impact reduction measures will be maintained throughout the life of a solar farm. At a minimum, maintenance of each measure should be made an enforceable condition of at least one permit the applicant needs to build a solar farm. Even better is a bond sufficient to carry out maintenance. In the event a measure fails like the visual buffer shown above, a government agency could then use the bond funds to have maintenance performed.
WHEN A SOLAR FARM COMPANY REFUSES TO NEGOTIATEAppeal to your elected officials to urge the company to take the reasonable steps you’ve identified to resolve your concerns. Even though a Town council member, a county commissioner, or a state senator may not have veto power over a project, they frequently have considerable influence with those wishing to develop solar farms. If you can show an elected official that you’ve tried to work cooperatively and your solutions are reasonable then there’s a good chance the official will urge the company CEO to negotiate in good faith.
WHEN ELECTED OFFICIALS REFUSE TO RESOLVE SOLAR FARM CONCERNSHere are examples of good reasons why an elected official may feel they cannot act:
- Belief that they lack the authority to act, or
- Perception that impacts cannot be resolved without negating solar energy production benefits.
GUIDING SOLAR FARMS TO LOW-IMPACT SITESMany local and state governments have adopted laws designed to guide larger solar facilities to sites where the benefits can be obtained while minimizing negative effects. Following are links to a sampling of these laws and guidance documents:
- American Farmland Trust Solar Siting Guidelines,
- American Planning Association Planning and Zoning for Solar Energy,
- Best Practices in Zoning for Solar,
- California Solar Permitting Guidebook,
- Maryland Solar Zoning Laws,
- Massachusetts Model Zoning for the Regulation of Solar Energy Systems, and
- Minnesota Grow Solar Local Government Tool Kit.
- Chapter 41: Changing the Law
- Chapter 39: Lobbying Final Decision-Makers
- Chapter 36: Mobilizing Support for Your Strategy
- Chapter 40: Legal Action
DEFEATING BAD SOLAR ENERGY PROPOSALSSometimes a project is proposed for a site that is so poorly suited for a solar farm that impacts cannot be reduced to a reasonable degree. Here are a couple of examples:
- A solar farm requires removal of a massive amount of forest supporting highly-sensitive species, or
- The significance of an important historic site would be lost if overwhelmed by a massive solar farm nearby.
POTENTIAL SOLAR FARM IMPACTSAssessing potential solar farm impacts is difficult because these facilities are so new that long term effects are unknown. The other complicating factor is balancing the tremendous global benefits provided by solar energy against mostly local impacts. To make this topic even more complicated, the internet is replete with accusations of fake news regarding solar impacts and benefits. It is for these reasons that this webpage focuses on issues that are generally straight-forward and can be resolved on most sites.
Solar Farm and the View from Your HomeBecause it is the most commonly cited concern, this issue is the focus of much of this webpage. The concern seems to be most common in rural areas where home owners are troubled by replacing a view of farms and forests with a mass of solar panels and the somewhat industrial feel they impart.
Noise & GlareBoth of these impacts appear to be rare occurences at solar farms. However, those living near a Florida solar farm reported that both noise and glare were an issue. In the following clip you can hear the noise which appeared to come from a solar inverter: Perry Solar Farm Inverter Noise. We contacted the owner of this solar farm repeatedly in hopes of learning what caused the noise and to get it corrected. Unfortunately, the owner never responded.
How Do Solar Farms Affect Property ValueThere appear to be few if any independent studies of the effects of solar farms on the value of nearby homes. Most of the studies one finds online were done on behalf of those wishing to build solar farms. While this does not necessarily mean that these developer-funded studies are biased, they all do seem to conclude that solar farms have no adverse effect on property value. Most of these studies compare the selling price of comparable homes located near solar farms with those more distant. Unfortunately, few of the studies clearly state whether the solar farm is visible from the nearby home. This could make a substantial difference in selling price. With regard to property value, perhaps the only thing that can be confidently said is that it’s more likely that a home within view of solar farm will probably – though not absolutely – sell for less. By how much less remains to be seen.
Replacing Cropfields & Forest with Solar FarmsThe following issues appear common to those concerned about larger solar farms:
- Loss of prime-productive farm land,
- Loss of forest, and
- Loss of wildlife habitat and interference with migrations.
River, Lake, Wetland & Other Aquatic Resource Impacts of Solar FarmsPotential aquatic resource impacts may include increased stormwater runoff, pollution, and the loss of the benefits provided by forests and other natural landscapes. Unfortunately, it can take a decade or more before the long-term aquatic resource effects of facilities like solar farms are fully understood. Until then one can only speculate about potential effects. Potential solar farm aquatic resource impacts are:
- Loss of groundwater recharge,
- Stormwater pollution, and
- Release of cadmium.
Wildlife ImpactsOne of the most often cited negative wildlife effects is that caused by a form of solar energy known as thermal solar where sunlight is concentrated to turn a fluid into steam. A 2017 Audubon article described how a thermal solar tower in California killed a large number of birds. Fortunately, most solar projects are of the panel type; not the thermal solar type. The Audubon article noted that the beneficifial effects of solar energy on climate change saves many, many birds.
CEDS SOLAR FARM INITIAL STRATEGY ANALYSISFor a modest fee CEDS can analysis the following to determine the best strategy for resolving your concerns about a solar farm proposal:
- Identify all potential solar farm impacts,
- Explore options for resolving each impact,
- Assist you in negotiating with the applicant or regulatory agencies to resolve each impact,
- If negotiations fail then we’ll determine the best strategy for killing the solar farm by:
- Identifying all permits and other approvals the project requires,
- Determining which provides the best opportunity to nix the project,
- Search for attorneys with a good record of success in winning similar cases,
- Help you raise the funds needed to win, and
- Explore opportunities to amend laws to prevent harmful projects from being approved.