Community Factors

Flock of sheep pasturing under the sun is below the solar panel. Photo Credit: Jenson

Research on this project will focus on community factors associated with solar energy development.  Considering some of the difficulties of installing solar panels such as the likelihood of neighborhood opposition and costs of assembling a large expanse of land in more urban counties with different landowners, rural areas and farmland are an attractive development option for solar developers. Recent court rulings in Maryland limit the counties where new solar projects may be approved; the impacts of this ruling are still unknown. With limited county involvement in the solar energy process, the agricultural community is concerned that farmland will be lost to solar development and further reduce the amount of available farmland in the state.  

Rural communities and landowners face questions about land leasing for renewable energy production. Long-term implications may affect landowners and communities if the agreements are not well understood from the start. One example involves decommissioning a solar energy facility once it becomes inefficient. Without correctly specifying at the beginning of an agreement how the site will be cleaned up (in order, perhaps, to be returned to agriculture), communities and landowners will be left to figure out how to remediate these sites.

Prior research on community economic impacts of natural gas development has mainly focused on new sources of income, like royalties. With solar energy projects, the focus would be on rental payments, not royalty payments. Furthermore, prior research in natural gas leasing estimates that only a small portion of royalty payments was spent to benefit farmers on farm businesses with significant spending.

Currently, the Land-Grant System has next to no information to guide farmers, landowners, or Extension faculty on such issues. This information is critical, as evidenced by landowners continually contacting Extension county educators and specialists to help make sense of these agreements. These requests often ask for information concerning the current rental rate for solar and assistance with understanding terms of a lease. With little information available, these landowners can often be confused about a fair rental price or lease terms.  Demand for such data is expected to increase along with demand for renewable energy sources.

Panoramic view of solar panels during a sunrise on a summers day. Photo Credit: StudioFI