If you’re like many farmers, ranchers, and landowners, you’re experiencing our climate crisis firsthand in undesirable ways. Drought, extreme heat, and flooding are wreaking havoc on your very means of survival: your land.
The situation is so hopeless for some that drastic measures such as selling their property seems to be one of the only solutions remaining on the table.
Fortunately, there is an alternative.
Have you considered leasing your land as a solar farm?
In this article, you’ll find out everything you need to know about solar farms as a way to create a steady income from your land for 25-50 years.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Meeting the solar farm land requirements could set you up for early retirement today! Or maybe not. It all depends on a number of factors.
Here you’ll discover:
- Advantages and disadvantages of leasing your land for solar energy production
- Solar farm land requirement details, rules, and regulations
- Best of all: Your compensation!
It’s all here in one blog post.
Our in-depth analysis on all the essentials about solar farm land requirements concludes with a list of the top 7 tips for farmers, ranchers, and landowners thinking about leasing their property to a solar developer or solar storage business.
What is a solar farm?
You’re used to seeing “amber waves of grain” billowing in the breeze across acres and acres of farmland as far as the eye can see.
Now just imagine rows upon rows of hundreds or hundreds of thousands of ground-mounted solar panels, often with adjoining buildings that house immense batteries to store the power generated by those photovoltaic (PV) modules for later use.
Also called solar parks, plants, fields, or power stations, solar farms are becoming commonplace throughout the world. As countries, states, and municipalities transition toward phasing out fossil fuels as energy sources, they are actively looking to expand clean energy capacity — namely, solar and wind energy — in their jurisdictions.
This is where you, as a farmer, rancher, or general landowner, come into the picture. Solar developers want you to partner with them in solar projects that generate electricity.
Types of solar farm
There are two main types of solar projects that solar developers are actively pursuing right now all over the United States:
1. Utility solar farms
In the case of solar farms consisting of thousands or hundreds of thousands of PV modules on your property, the developers will sell the electricity created by the solar panels to a public utility in urban and suburban areas. In rural settings, the power will go to an electric cooperative.
In these cases, the electricity generated by sun energy hitting the PV panels travels on the electric grid for widespread use by consumers or corporate entities located far from your farm.
Alternatively, the developers will sell the electricity to large corporations, institutions, or university systems that have massive demands for power in centralized settings. They also want to purchase renewable energy instead of electricity generated from fossil fuels.
Solar developers could also sell the electricity created on your land to locally organized groups of individuals who become subscribers to a community solar program. These people may not have the means or space to purchase their own rooftop solar system, but still wish to participate in the renewable energy revolution.
Community solar members purchase shares of the energy created on your solar farm. Others interested in solar energy may enter into power purchase agreements (PPAs) with public utilities at a fixed cost for a certain length of time.
Typically, utility solar power stations are huge in comparison to community solar farms. This means that your property — whether big or small — could be a candidate for leasing a solar farm.
How much land do you need for a solar farm?
Solar farms can take up a few acres of land or tens of thousands. There are many reasons for the wide differences that we’ll explain in this section.
The size of a solar farm defines how much electricity it creates. The bigger the solar farm, the greater the power output.
In fact, instead of using a land measurement to describe the size of a solar farm, they are classified according to how much electricity they can generate from the sun. This quantity is called their capacity to generate electricity. Capacity is measured in watts, the standard unit for electrical power.
Sample calculation for determining the size of a solar farm
To illustrate how the size in acreage corresponds to the size in wattage to a solar farm, here is a sample calculation. Using it, you’ll be able to predict the largest solar farm size that your property could reasonably service.
To start, think of something more familiar: a rooftop solar array.
For an average American family using 900 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month, (or 30 kWh/day), the solar system would be sized at about 7.5kW. This estimation assumes full sun directly hitting all the panels for 4 hrs./day. (We determine the size by dividing 30 kWh by 4 hrs.) Such a system is large enough to cover approximately all of household energy demands.
Note: In reality and to guarantee that their home energy needs are met, homeowners may opt to increase their calculated system size by 15-20% to account for:
- Occasional lack of full sun
- Panel inefficiency
- Energy losses in transmission and DC to AC conversion
- Module degradation over time.
To figure out how much roof space you need for the PV panels producing 7.5kW, assume each kilowatt requires 100 sq. ft. This is the standard area used in calculations of this sort.
So, you’ll need 100 x 7.5 = 750 sq. ft. of roof space to house a 7.5kW residential solar system.
When it comes to solar farms, everything is calculated in a similar fashion but on a much grander scale.
For instance, a 5 MW (megawatt, where 1 MW = 1,000 kW) solar farm would require a minimum of 100 x 5,000 = 500,000 sq. ft.
Given the equivalence of 1 acre = 43, 560 sq. ft., that works out to be about 11 ½ acres needed for a 5 MW solar park.
Note that’s just for the panels. Figure in an additional 8-10 acres more to house other solar system hardware plus the space needed between rows to avoid shading (and consequent power loss) as well as space for periodic array maintenance.
That brings the total for a 5 MW solar farm to 11.5 + 10 acres = 21.5 acres. This is a conservative estimate.
Other sources suggest 6-8 acres for each megawatt of power produced is needed to build a profitable solar farm.
Note that as PV module technological improvements result in higher panel efficiencies, fewer acres per megawatt will be needed.
To give you a better idea of the type of solar power station that could operate on your land, consider a community solar farm. These days, it’s typically 1-10 MW in size. A utility project may be sized at 25 MW up to 1 GW (1 gigawatt = 1,000 megawatts).
Here’s a table of information that gives you a better idea of how much land is required for solar farms of various capacities. The data are derived from a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report.
Notes about the table: The “ac” written after the wattage unit stands for alternating current. This refers to the electricity that has already been transformed from the direct current (DC) electricity produced by the PV array. AC current is necessary for integration with electric grid power lines.
Fixed panels do not move along with the sun. Single- and dual-axis trackers move the PV modules up and down and from left to right during the day in order to capture the maximum amount of sunlight all the time. CPV is an advanced solar technology.
Table 1. Solar farm land requirements in the United States, as measured by megawatts (MWac) of electrical power generated
|Technology||Average direct land use (acres/MWac)||Average total land use (acres/MWac)|
|Small PV |
|Large PV (>20MW)||7.2||7.9|
How much does it cost to set up a solar farm?
According to the latest national average cost figures from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) taken from their second quarter (Q2) report of 2021, the turnkey installation cost of non-residential and fixed tilt utility PV ranges between $0.77 to $1.36 per watt.
By comparison, a residential rooftop or ground-mounted solar system costs between $2.50 and $3.50 per watt. When buying in large quantities for solar farm projects, solar developers save on equipment costs.
Generally, solar developers pay a total installation cost of $3 million per megawatt to build a solar farm (excluding the cost of land). This amounts to about $500,000 per acre.
For a quick return on investment, solar developers are usually unwilling to build a solar farm under 1 MW in capacity. However, for land that is optimally suited to yield a quick return on investment, they may consider it. See below for more on what makes your land ideally suited for a solar farm.
Solar farm lease rates
Granted your property adheres to all necessary solar farm land requirements, the typical solar farm lease rate varies between $600 – $1,200 per acre for every year of your contract.
If you’re able to hire a savvy lawyer who will tirelessly advocate for you during contract negotiations with a solar developer, you could make sure annual rent increases are included as well as adjustments for inflation.
If your lawyer’s negotiating skills are outstanding — or the solar developer is desperate for your land — adding in partial royalty payments would increase your income even more.
Factors that affect solar farm lease rates
How much money you get for leasing your land for a solar farm depends on several factors. Here are the most important.
1. Interconnection proximity
If your property is located near transmission or distribution lines or a substation, that makes it super easy — and cheap — to send the power a solar farm on your property generates to the electric grid.
- The line or substation voltage is close to the voltage that your farm’s capacity delivers;
- The line has available injection capacity to absorb what your solar farm sends to it.
2. Suitability of your land for a solar farm
Solar developers scout out flat, clear land as ideally suited for a solar farm. This means less than 5° of slope, but more may be acceptable if it’s facing south.
There shouldn’t be trees or buildings that can obstruct sunlight or cause shading issues. Nor should there be waterways.
Having a major road or two adjacent to or running through your property will make it easier for construction vehicles to access your land.
A large plot of land (hundreds of acres) is often more valuable on a per acre basis than a smaller one if a solar developer is looking to build a huge solar power station.
However, if they wish to build numerous small solar parks in a particular region due to local tax incentives that encourage the creation of community solar projects, a small land parcel will be perfect.
3. Market supply and demand for solar farms
Of all the major factors that influence solar farm lease rates, this one is most likely to evolve over time. Changes may happen on short notice, propelling solar developers to hunt out suitable land for solar farms and get signed contracts quickly.
If your state or county recently announced its goal for increasing renewable energy in a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) within a certain time frame, solar developers will be working fast to achieve that mandate.
Sometimes, the RPS will accompany tax incentives for solar projects, making solar farm projects even more attractive to both developers and farmers.
Or, a large corporation may release a Request for Proposal (RFP) to solicit bids from solar developers in a specific region because of their intention to build a large-capacity data center that runs only on renewable energy.
Finally, a public utility may announce an upgrade to or new construction of its infrastructure in a certain area. Solar developers will act rapidly, looking to secure commitments from local farmers, ranchers, or landowners to build solar farms on their properties.
Advantages of solar farm leasing
There are many advantages for farmers, ranchers, and general landowners if they meet solar farm land requirements and lease their property for solar farming. Here are the major pros for solar farm leasing:
- Guaranteed a steady passive income
- Long-term financial security
- Does not have a negative impact on your property’s value in rural areas
- Supports local economy through green jobs creation
- Boosts local governmental services arising from the additional property taxes paid by the solar developer
- Reduces fossil fuel consumption for home or commercial electricity
- Aids in achieving U.S. energy independence
Disadvantages of solar farm leasing
There are several disadvantages when leasing your property as a solar farm after you’ve been approved by a solar developer for satisfying solar farm land requirements. Here are the major ones:
- Your property taxes will likely increase because you may lose your Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) status if you stop growing crops.
- Switching from agricultural to commercial land use could result in tax penalties for you.
- The amount of money your land could generate for you over 25-50 years through traditional agricultural activities could actually work out to be more than the rent paid to you forsolar energy.
- If the solar company goes out of business before your lease is up, you could be stuck with costly PV module and cement ballast disposal before you can begin farming again. (Learn how to combine solar power generation with farming in our guide to Agrivoltaics).
- During the exploratory phase of a solar farm project, extensive testing on your land could result in significant crop damage that you’re left to repair or remove.
- Unless your property is well-maintained during the length of your lease, noxious weeds growing around and under the PV panels could spread to adjacent properties, angering neighbors.
See the next section for tips on how farmers can reduce their risks when leasing their land for solar power stations.
Top 7 tips for farmers about solar farm leases
While there are several economic advantages to farmers when leasing their land — after meeting the solar farm land requirements — for solar projects, it’s important to guard against the risks you may encounter.
When beginning the process, in most cases, you won’t ever need to fill out applications and actively recruit a solar developer, assuming you satisfy the solarfarm land requirements. They will come looking for you!
There is a huge demand for solar energy but not enough land to situate all the PV modules on. Your land is a precious commodity to solar developers. They have much to gain from you and want you to sign on with them.
Unfortunately, if you don’t take all the necessary precautions, you could literally lose everything.
Here are the top 7 tips for farmers about solar farm leases to keep yourself in a good financial position from start to finish.
- Get a lawyer who understands the risks incurred by landowners who lease their land as a solar farm. They will ensure that the written contract between you and the solar developer will protect your interests from beginning to end. Preferably hire someone with knowledge and experience in solar farm projects. Your attorney will make sure that certain wording in the contract that gives the upper hand to the developer is avoided. It must not, for instance, require you to relinquish your land in any case or give “easements” to the developer — whatever that means!
- Insist on the creation of an escrow account for the solar project such that the developer must maintain a minimum balance at all times that will cover the complete removal of PV panels, equipment, and cement ballasts at the end of the lease.
- Make sure that the written contract contains — at a minimum — clauses to the effect that the solar developer is responsible for paying: (1) property taxes beyond what you’d pay as a farmer; (2) crop damage during any time during the project; (3) maintaining the areas under and around the panels to reduce noxious weed spread.
- Be sure that you’re entering an agreement between you and a bonafide solar developer. Thoroughly investigate their background, project history, reputation, and financial solvency before choosing a solar developer. The developer wants to form a long-term working partnership with you. They want everything to go smoothly and everyone to benefit. By contrast, land brokers or land agents simply want to buy or rent your property. They’re not interested in what happens to you after you sign on the dotted line.
- Don’t sign anything before speaking to your lawyer! Be aware that the developer — even at an initial “exploratory”meeting — may first request that you sign what’s termed a solar option (not a solar lease). The solar option is legally binding. It does not contain an option for you to leave the deal without incurring negative consequences. It’s just an option for the solar developer to use the land.
- Search out the advice of an agricultural economic advisor before you decide. Are you sure that over 25-50 years, the rent from solar leasing will be more than what your land could create in other ways?
- Field multiple offers from different solar developers before deciding on one. Remember that they want something you own. Let them compete for it! Compare bids with your lawyer. Search out solar industry professionals for their input, too, before making a final decision.
Key takeaways on solar farm land requirements
Farmers, ranchers, and landowners in search of a predictable way to receive passive income should determine if they meet the solar farm land requirements for leasing a solar project on their property.
The advantages gained from satisfying the minimum of 6-8 acres of solar-ready land per megawatt needed to construct the smallest of community solar farms may outweigh any disadvantages as detailed in this article.
One hundred sixty or more acres would satisfy the solar farm land requirements for a larger (20 MWac minimum) utility-scale solar power station.
But each case is unique. Search out legal advice before going all in.
With our top 7 tips for farmers concerning solar leasing after you’ve met the solar farm land requirements, you’ll be well on your way as a partner in a quintuple win/business opportunity for you, the solar developer, the public utility, consumers, and the planet.
As the number of solar energy farms installed around the country has increased year over year, more and more landowners are considering whether or not their property would be a good fit for a solar project. Many landowners have likely been approached by solar developers already, and yet others may have heard the general idea…
As the number of solar energy farms installed around the country has increased year over year, more and more landowners are considering whether or not their property would be a good fit for a solar project.. Many landowners have likely been approached by solar developers already, and yet others may have heard the general idea that a site needs to be flat, clear, and dry to be a good fit for solar.. This post helps further explain what solar developers look for in a site and should help landowners better understand whether or not their site is a good fit to host a solar farm.. The size limitations of a solar farm can be determined by legislation, utility policy, electrical constraints of nearby infrastructure, or the business model of the solar developer.. It’s helpful that a site be located within a jurisdiction that has either established a protocol for permitting solar farms or is willing to work with developers to identify appropriate permitting requirements.. Finally, when determining whether or not a site works for solar, it is also important to consider if solar is a good fit for the landowner.. For sites that have historically been used for agricultural production, solar may make sense if a landowner has historically utilized the land for lower value commodity crops, the site has limited access to water (often referred to as “water rights”), or the site has rocky or unproductive soil.
Our guide will provide all the information you need to know about a solar electric fence. Use this to protect you livestock and property in a clean manner.
For this, it is vital to install the solar electric fence chargers.. First and foremost, solar-powered electric fence chargers are not expensive at all.. In some areas or regions where there is no availability of AC power, a solar-powered electric fence charger can really be beneficial.. When you install a solar-powered electric fence charger, your worries will be gone because unlike AC chargers, a solar-powered charger rarely gets damaged by lightning strikes.. On the other hand, with a solar-powered electric fence charger, not only you save money on power bills but also contribute to the environment significantly.. Now, you have come to know the benefits of a solar-powered electric fence charger.. In our opinion, it should be your “set in stone” approach to avoid AC outlets and purchase/use a solar-powered charger in its place for your electric fence.. There are a wide variety of solar-powered electric fence chargers available in the market.. There are a few factors to consider while choosing the best solar-powered electric fence charger.. This article will help you choose the best solar-powered electric fence charger.. Before you begin the process of installation of a solar-powered electric fence charger, you need to turn it off.. If the fence wire is at distance from the solar-powered fence charger, then the voltage will drop.. So, you absolutely don’t need to worry about the weather conditions when you a solar-powered electric fence charger installed at your farm or property.. Since solar-powered electric fence chargers receive direct sunlight via solar panels , it is important to position the charger in a place where it receives maximum sunlight – this means you need to avoid placing the device close to trees or other shady areas.. Lastly, solar-powered electric fence chargers require low maintenance, are cost-effective, reliable, as well can power long distances.
By: Ron Heiniger NCSU Professor and Extension Specialist, Corn/Soybeans/Small Grains Crop Science You can’t help but notice changes on the landscape of agriculture in North Carolina in the form of solar farms. The question arises are these uses of agricultural land a good thing or something we will come to regret. As an agronomist who
As an agronomist who works with crops and soils every day and as one who has gone through a life-changing event that changed my future from being a farmer in Kansas to my present position as an extension specialist, I feel it is important to point out a few facts that should be considered before signing that contract to lease your land for solar farming.. Solar farming will change the future productivity of the land.. Because solar panels only capture 20% of the light for only about 5 hours of the day the rest of that solar energy will pass through to the ground.. Make sure these specific plans make sense for your land!. Because of this lost productivity and the resulting changes in the farming communities caused by the loss of land, it is highly unlikely this land will ever be farmed again.. Fact 4: Solar farming is not a good use of our land. Right now, it is costing North Carolina taxpayers $124 million dollars in lost tax revenues.
Development of new large-scale solar projects is increasing again after virtually stalling when the government axed the main support mechanism three years
Development of new large-scale solar projects is increasing again after virtually stalling when the government axed the main support mechanism three years ago.. The ability of some solar operators to secure power purchase agreements with large corporate organisations such as Amazon and Google, which have committed to using 100% renewable energy, has also helped the sector, with the first schemes to be built in 2019... Typically 1MW of installed capacity requires about 2ha of land, and many new sites need at least 40ha, depending on the project design.. Aside from the need for available capacity on the local electricity network, proximity to a suitable power supply, typically a 33kV distribution line or substation, is one of the main criteria for solar farm sites, says Fisher German’s Mark Newton.. “If there is capacity on your part of the network it will only be enough for one scheme.. If you’ve got a good site you need to secure that capacity for yourself before someone gets in first.”. Location, sunlight levels, scale and grid connection costs all influence potential returns and likely rental income for the landowner, adds Harry Edwards of Fisher German.. An additional payment to the landowner and linked to site revenue (typically a few percent) is possible, although some developers may resist it.. Rental income is typically inflation-linked, with many developers looking to secure agreements of up to 30 years, or potentially longer, he notes.. Business Property Relief from IHT may still be available, providing rental income forms only a small part of the total farm business income.. Because rental income is property income rather than farm trading income, it is also likely to give rise to an income or corporation tax liability.. There are three main types of solar “developer”, and it is crucial to know who you are dealing with, says Mr Creed:. Site finders – offer terms to landowner and conduct grid application/ planning, but then sell the project on to a developer to build Developer with financial backing (for example, from pension fund or other investor) to build projects that they may then sell on Funded developer in it for the long-term – developer takes on full planning, construction and operation of the site for the long-term.
If you are an agricultural land owner and are considering your options to go solar, here are some resources to help you decide what’s best for you.
Potential increase PV performance – Vegetation under modules can contribute to lower soil temperatures and increase solar performance.. Reduced electricity costs Diversification of the revenue stream Increased ability to install high-value, shade- resistant crops for new markets Marketing opportunity to sustainability-mindful audience Ability to maintain crop production during solar generation Allow for nutrient and land recharge of degraded lands.. There have been no studies linking solar development with pest problems, but studies have shown how native plants can thrive underneath solar installations.. Will solar modules heat up and dry out vegetation or crops under the modules?. In addition, solar can provide several benefits to agricultural land managers that may offset capital costs of installing solar:. Raising the height of PV modules can increase the cost of the solar installation.
Stephen Tromans QC, Philippa Jackson and Jon Darby examine current government policy on locating solar PV schemes on agricultural land.
The UK’s published solar PV strategy (October 2013 and April 2014) makes it clear that there is a considerable need for more generating capacity, if targets for renewable energy and, specifically, solar photovoltaic energy are to be met, that cost-effective solar PV projects which deliver genuine carbon reductions are to be supported and that all local planning authorities have responsibility for assisting in achieving these objectives.. Particularly in rural areas, large swathes of which may be classified as best and most versatile agricultural land (i.e. land which is Grade 1, 2 and 3a on the Agricultural Land Classification) (“BMVAL”), there is arguably a degree of tension between national and local policies which seek to preserve the agricultural use of such land and policies which encourage the production of renewable energy, including solar PV schemes.. The PPG identifies a number of factors which should be taken into account by Local Planning Authorities when determining applications for large-scale PV solar farms, including encouraging the effective use of land by focussing large scale solar farms on previously developed and non-agricultural land, provided that it is not of high environmental value and, where a proposal involves greenfield land, considering whether:. the proposed use of any agricultural land has been shown to be necessary and poorer quality land has been used in preference to higher quality land; the proposal allows for continued agricultural use where applicable and/ or encourages biodiversity improvements around arrays.. This has led some Local Planning Authorities to argue that applicants are required to undertake a sequential assessment, similar in kind to those undertaken in support of applications for retail development, to demonstrate that no land of lower agricultural value (or indeed non- agricultural land) is available on which to locate a proposed large-scale solar PV scheme.. On 25 March 2015 the former Secretary of State, Eric Pickles MP, published a ministerial statement on solar farms, in which he emphasised that proposals for a solar farm involving best and most valuable agricultural land (“BMVAL”) would need to be justified by “the most compelling evidence” albeit that each application must be considered on its merits, in the light of material considerations.
Do you want to start a solar farm but you lack the technical know-how? If YES, here is a detailed step by step guide on how to build a commercial solar farm
The Solar Farm Developers industry is made up of companies that mainly install and construct solar power grid systems, which are known as solar farms, on a utility scale.. So if you are interested in the solar energy industry and you want to build a commercial solar farm, here are the step by step guide you are expected to follow to fulfill your business goal.. When we talk of business plan in this regard, we are talking of a comprehensive document to covers everything from how you intend to run the commercial solar farm to all the necessary diagrams needed to build the commercial solar farm.. If you are done with your business plan document and all the necessary drafting that is required to start your commercial solar farm, the next logical step to follow is to take action and taking action means that you should look for a suitable location that can accommodate your commercial solar farm.. Depending on the country that you are in, it is important to point out that commercial solar farms are being mainly built in countries which have subsidy program like tax rebates, feed in tariffs and government support via business loans et al for investors who are interested in operating commercial solar farms.. Step Five: Start the Basic Engineering Design and Technology Selection If you have acquired the site you want to build your commercial solar farm on, then the next step to follow is to start the basic engineering design and technology selection that is most suitable for the type of commercial solar farm (small, medium or large solar farm) that you want to build.. Please have it in mind that an engineering layout for a solar farm is prepared along with a selection of the suitable technology and of course vendors of the solar equipment that you intend using in the commercial solar farm.. For example, a large commercial solar farm like First Solar in the United States of the Aqua Caliente, there are a number of permitting steps that have to be passed before the solar farm can secure the needed permits and be built.. Step Eight: Selection of A System Integrator or a Solar EPC Contractor The next step to take after signing the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) document is to select a System Integrator or a Solar EPC Contractor for your commercial solar farm.. Please note that if you decide to settle for a Solar EPC Contractor then all the solar panels needed in the commercial solar farm needs to be purchased if the Solar EPC Contractor is not a Turnkey One.. Step Eleven: Testing and Connection to Grid One of the reasons why you would need to ensure that your engineers and project managers build your commercial solar farm to specification is because the solar farm will be subjected to testing before it can be connected to the grid.