Reconciling Renewable Energy and Farmland Preservation: An Inventory of State Land-Use Policies

September 2019
Sarah Mills, Ian McKenny

Decarbonizing the electricity sector will require a shift in the geography of where our electricity is produced. Currently, most electricity comes from large, centralized fossil fuel and nuclear power plants sited in or near urban areas where much of that power is used. Renewable energy power plants such as solar and wind energy systems require five to 10 times as much land area as fossil fuel power plants. As a result, many of these renewable energy power plants are sited in rural communities where land is more plentiful. Agricultural lands, in particular, are often sought for utility-scale renewables development. This has raised questions, however, about whether renewable energy presents an opportunity or threat to state farmland preservation policies designed to preserve farmland by limiting non-agricultural development.

Here we inventory the farmland preservation policies in all 50 states to determine how each state treats the siting of solar- and wind-farms on preserved farmland. We also suggest how solar and wind development either align or conflict with common goals of state farmland preservation programs.