Renewable energy is no threat to agriculture

Feb 3, 2024


Herald-Star Online

Why does Ohio’s Republican party continue to vilify solar and wind energy, as evidenced by a recent opinion piece “We must abandon reckless wind and solar subsidies” by U.S. Senate candidate Frank LaRose? His op-ed is a barrage of talking points propagated by trade publications and other opinion pieces; there are no peer reviewed studies cited.

The facts show that Ohio farmers do face obstacles, but not from renewable energy. Farmers in the Midwest are experiencing the effects of climate change — “increased average temperatures, changes in rainfall that can lead to flooding or droughts, and an increase in extreme weather events that can adversely affect crops,” especially corn and soybeans, the top two crops produced in Ohio.

Since the passage of SB52, many Ohio counties are vetoing utility-scale renewable projects. They are being misled by an anonymously funded group spreading misinformation about rural solar projects. The much-needed economic benefits these projects could bring to communities and farmers are lost. But Ohio citizens, like my family, desiring to protect their land from destructive oil and gas development have no such legislation. Instead, we are “forced pooled” by out-of-state energy companies using Ohio’s pro fossil fuel laws. Minerals resources are stolen from underneath Ohioans’ homes without their approval. Meanwhile, wind turbines in Ohio have some of the strictest set-back regulations in the nation (more than 1100 feet), but an oil or gas well pad can be located 150 feet from an occupied dwelling.

When it comes to subsidies, oil and gas industry subsidies have far exceeded any amounts awarded to renewables by the Inflation Reduction Act. In 2022, fossil fuel subsidies globally were more than $7 trillion, with the United States contributing $20 billion a year. This comes at a time when 2023 was declared the hottest year on record and the fossil fuel industry was making record profits ($200 billion in 2022.)

Additionally, these subsidies do not include social costs to humanity from toxic air and water emissions, including negative health effects costing billions of dollars in health care costs and labor losses. The Haliburton Loophole exempts oil and gas from almost every major environmental law. Billions of barrels of radioactive, toxic produced wastewater from fracking is unregulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and is injected into Class II injection wells in rural communities. Last year, the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management found that “waste fluid injected into the three K&H wells had spread at least 1.5 miles underground and was rising to the surface through oil and gas production wells in Athens and Washington counties” endangering drinking water sources.

Most Ohio citizens know about the $60 million bribery scandal with HB 6, yet Ohio customers continue to pay more than $130,000 daily to bail out two 1950s-era coal plants (one plant is actually located in Indiana.)

Adding insult to injury is the recent passage of HB201, which will charge Ohio’s 3.7 million gas customers “up to $1.50 per month for as long as five years to extend gas lines to sites that could potentially be used for megaprojects, even if no buyer has been lined up.”

LaRose fails to mention that many of the IRA energy credits are going directly to consumers and will help Ohio families save on energy costs in the future. These credits include: “The installation of new doors, windows, skylights, insulation, heat pumps, installation of residential solar, small-scale wind, geothermal heat pumps, home battery storage and fuel cell energy systems.”

LaRose fails to mention that solar panel companies in Ohio are providing many long-term high paying jobs in local communities. In 2021, First Solar in Toledo, which already has two plants in Ohio, announced a third Ohio plant which will produce thin film PV modules. This $680 million dollar investment will be second only to China in number of panels produced.

If LaRose had done his homework, he would have learned that solar panels and farming are not incompatible. Livestock can graze and crops can be grown under solar panels. Agrivoltaics is a type of farming that uses a symbiotic relationship between solar panels and crops. Benefits from this method include less crop water use, increased solar production due to panel cooling from the crops, and less damage to crops from wind and hail.

“The groundbreaking 800 megawatt, 5,700-acre ‘dual use’ development known as the Oak Run Solar Project in central Ohio recently filed plans to implement agrivoltaics at a record-shattering scale. The project also proposes to launch a national training center in agrivoltaics.”

If we really want to talk about “phony policies costly to the environment” we should mention that Ohio’s Republican party continues to ignore scientific facts about the health and environmental effects from fracking by passing pro-fossil fuel legislation whenever it can. This comes at a cost to rural communities faced with the externalities from fracking. Our communities and our kids’ health have been sacrificed for fossil fuel development. We see the damage to our rural landscapes daily, including forest fragmentation from a spiderweb of pipelines, enormous water withdraws, air and water pollution, and radiation from produced water. The enormous amounts of fugitive methane emissions from fracking are also fueling climate change.

What really “lacks any humanity or common sense” is selling Ohio State Parks to the oil and gas industry, jeopardizing an annual $8.1 billion outdoor recreation industry and threatening 133,000 local jobs dependent on that industry.

Technological improvements have now made renewable green energy cheaper than fossil fuels. Yet, the Appalachian counties of Ohio continue to be a mineral colony for fossil fuels, and increased drilling is sanctioned by Ohio’s Republican Party. How long will Ohio’s Republican party continue to thwart Ohio’s progress into the future, and continue to rely on a destructive industry that requires more and more fresh water and more injection wells for toxic wastes?

(Pokladnik, a resident of Uhrichsville, holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, master’s and doctorates in environmental studies and is certified in hazardous materials regulations.)