The Right to Farm Energy: Can Existing Right-To-Farm Laws be Applied to Emerging Renewable Energy Developments?

February 2021
Emma Uebelhor**, Jane Wentrack**, University of Michigan

As the economic viability of utility-scale renewable energy systems has grown through the past decades, wind and solar developers are increasingly interested in placing projects on farmland. While landowners, communities and developers gain benefits from rural energy developments, community reaction to these projects is often mixed, leaving farmers and developers vulnerable to nuisance lawsuits against their renewable energy systems from nearby landowners. To alleviate this burden, proponents of agriculturally based renewable energy projects have suggested applying existing state Right-to-Farm laws that protect farmers from nuisance claims to renewable energy systems on farmland. To understand the viability of this proposal, this study analyzes each of the 50 state’s Right-to-Farm laws for language that would protect new technological developments, such as a wind or solar farm, on farmland from nuisance lawsuits and local ordinances. This research concludes that while some states Right-to-Farm legislation includes language that could potentially protect renewable energy developers from lawsuits, no existing state law would provide certainty of protection to developers, which could hinder investment in rural renewable energy project.