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This solar farm in Montgomery County east of Charlotte is on land that used to be a hunting club.  It now produces electricity and raises sheep for sale as lamb.  (David Boraks/WFAE) 

Are solar projects a threat to NC farmland?

By David Boraks |
July 14, 2022 

Some critics of solar energy have raised concerns that solar farms take up too much land, especially agricultural land. In some places, local officials are even banning solar farms on farmland. But a new report finds that while the number of solar farms in the state has grown, they still account for a tiny fraction of crop land. 


The study by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) does find that agricultural lands are the most popular for solar development. But solar farms use only 0.28% of all agricultural land in North Carolina and just 0.12% of all land. 


That's counting utility-scale solar farms generating more than 1 megawatt of energy, according to NCSEA. (Download the report, "North Carolina Solar Land Use and Agriculture," on the NCSEA website). The report is an update to research in 2017 that found solar farms occupied 0.19% of North Carolina's agricultural lands. 


“The results of this study re-emphasize the relatively minor impact that solar development has on other revenue producing activities in rural parts of the state," Jerry Carey, the NCSEA's Market Intelligence Specialist, said in a statement.


“In the past, we have heard concerns that solar development activities pose a threat to the sustainability of the farming industry in North Carolina. The data collected by NCSEA in this report show that this concern is simply not true," he said. "In fact, these industries complement each other well in driving economic opportunities for rural communities across our state.” 


NCSEA's report notes that agriculture remains the state's largest industry, and the state ranks No. 1 in production of things like sweet potatoes and poultry.  

Photo shows a map of the locations of all utility-scale solar farms of 1 megawatt or more in North Carolina.
Map shows the locations of all utility-scale solar farms of 1 megawatt or more in North Carolina. (NC Sustainable Energy Association)

Meanwhile, North Carolina ranks No. 4 nationally in solar capacity, which is actually down a couple of spots from a few years ago. One study said almost $20 billion has been invested in solar in the state since 2007. The state now has 703 solar farms, up from 341 found in the 2017 study.


Still, solar developers are competing for agricultural land. For some farmers, leasing to a solar developer is more lucrative than growing crops – and more stable, the report says.   


"Even at the low end of those lease payments, solar would pay better per acre than barley, oats, or hay production," the report says, citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 


And one other key point from the research: When it comes to the loss of agricultural land, solar farms are far from the culprit. Farmers are far more likely to sell for development. About 78% comes from other land uses, especially low-density residential development. Unlike a solar farm, which has a lifespan of about 20 to 25 years, those are permanent changes in land use.


And some solar projects actually bring agriculture with them. Last year, I reported on the Montgomery Sheep Farm in Montgomery County, N.C., about 70 miles east of Charlotte. That's a lamb-and-solar business combination, with sheep grazing under the solar panels. Other solar farms are restoring native vegetation and supporting pollinators such as bees and butterflies. 


There's lots of interesting information in this report – worth a read if you're interested in solar. 

Highway administration proposes greenhouse gas reporting rules

Photo shows traffic on U.S. 74/Independence Boulevard in Charlotte.
Traffic on U.S. 74/Independence Boulevard in Charlotte. The Federal Highway Administration is proposing rules that would require state and local reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. (David Boraks/WFAE)
By David Boraks |
July 14, 2022 

As we often note, transportation is the nation's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of the energy sector and industry. So, the Biden administration is looking for new ways to target the transportation sector.


Last week, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require states and municipalities to track and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many are already doing this, but this proposal would establish a national framework, for gathering state-by-state data by adding it to existing FHWA measures. 


The proposed rulemaking also would "create a flexible system" that would call on state DOTs and regional planning organizations to "set their own declining targets for on-road greenhouse gas emissions from roadway travel on the National Highway System." They'll have to report progress every two years. 


In the announcement, the FWHA notes that the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last November includes more than $27 billion in federal funding to help state and local governments achieve their greenhouse gas reduction targets. 


The announcement brought this reaction from Meg Fencil, the director of impact and engagement with Sustain Charlotte. 


"This rule will help North Carolina to take critical action towards achieving the 50% reduction in economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 called for in [Gov. Roy Cooper's] Executive Order 246. It’s important that both the state and municipalities support sustainable transportation investments so that residents can more easily use public transit, ride a bike, walk, or drive electric vehicles. North Carolina and other states will make the most progress on fighting climate change if we have a clear and consistent way of measuring GHGs from transportation and developing plans to reduce them." 


You can read the notice of proposed rulemaking at 


Photo shows coal piled at Duke Energy's Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman in 2016.
Coal is piled at Duke Energy's Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman is seen in 2016. (David Boraks/WFAE)

NC regulators begin hearings on Duke Energy carbon reduction plan

North Carolina utility regulators will hold public hearings around the state beginning this week on Duke Energy's proposed plan for cutting carbon emissions from energy generation. (Read the full story.)


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