More farmers may lease land for solar projects in Michigan


A solar array at Domino’s Farms near Ann Arbor, Michigan. Image: Mark Houston

By Agnes Bao
Capital News Service

As solar energy soars in popularity in Michigan, solar leasing has become a  profitable option for farm owners.

Under agreements with private solar developers, farmers can earn rental payments varying from $500 to $2,000 per acre per year, said Charles Gould, the bioenergy & agricultural energy conservation educator at Michigan State University Extension.

“That’s considerably more than what they would be making from growing crops, grains and corn,” Gould said. “The current market price for those commodities doesn’t approach $1,000  an acre.”

However, owners need to give up use of that land in exchange for signing up, he said. “The lease agreement can be up to 25 to 30 years, so that land is no longer in production.”

The installation of solar energy generation on farmland should follow local master plans and zoning ordinances, according to MSU Extension. A master plan makes sure the land is suitable for the scale a of solar project and zoning ordinances set the legal standards for site selection.

Michigan gets about one-quarter of its electricity from renewable sources, including solar, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

It’s hard to predict whether a solar lease undermines the value of farmland, said Matthew Kapp, the government relations specialist at the Michigan Farm Bureau.

“There are many variables that contribute to value. Variables such as market conditions, location, soil type, as well as land use, all play a role in determining farmland value,” Kapp said.

“Each farmer needs to evaluate what’s the best use for their land,” he said. “Some farmers would say solar energy is a positive and some would say it’s a negative, depending on their own perspective.”

To some extent, taking land out of agricultural use will reduce production, said Richard Harlow, the manager of the Farmland Preservation Program at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The program aims at preserving farmland for agriculture. It provides tax benefits and exemptions from various special assessments, according to the department.

Harlow said, “Farm owners in the program are not permitted to put solar panels on the farmland.”

Michigan has 3.3 million of its 10 million acres of farmland in the preservation program, he said. “Renewable energy is good, but we are not making any new farmland and we need to preserve the farmland we have.”

Agricultural solar energy development is still in the early stage, said Charlotte Jameson, the director of energy policy and legislative affairs at the Michigan Environmental Council.

“We are not really at the point that we were need to worry about overuse of farmland and solar,” Jameson said.

Jameson suggested redeveloping brownfield sites — abandoned and contaminated industrial sites — for solar projects.

In Michigan, the price of solar panels and related equipment declined 55 percent over last five years.

Solar energy production in the state grew from 5.7 megawatts in 2016 to 107 megawatts in 2017, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

However, it produces only 0.1 percent of the state’s electricity.

Traverse City opened its M-72 solar project last October with the intent to power 100 percent of city operations with renewable energy by 2020.

The project is a collaboration among the city, its municipally-owned utility and Heritage Sustainable Energy, a private company.

It is under a solar lease agreement on former farmland.

“This year the city will continue to focus on energy efficiency measures — building by building — and also work with Traverse City Light & Power on additional opportunities to procure renewable energy,” said Sarna Salzman, a member of the Grand Traverse County Planning Commission.

14 thoughts on “More farmers may lease land for solar projects in Michigan

  1. I own 155 acres in Irons Michigan interested in hearing about leasing some of my land.

  2. My name is William Reese, I own a farm outside of scottvile mi, I can see windmills out my window , so the infrastructure is there, am interested in leasing out part of my farm up to 20 acres of my 38 acres farm

  3. So in the middle of a worldwide wheat shortage, the US turns farmland into solar farms and grows more corn for ethanol even though fertilizer is scarce. Wow.

  4. If Anyone is interested in leasing their property for solar, feel free to reach out to me. I work with a large utility scale solar company that is very active throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

  5. I have 15 acres. Next to high school, feed mill and subdivision. 6383 Oakpoint Rd Jackson mi. This used to be farmland.
    Text at 5176629932.

  6. I have 15 acres Napoleon michigan near feed mill, school and residential homes.

  7. If anyone is still interested in leasing their land, feel free to contact me at Alder Energy is a national solar development company, we have been working with landowners and businesses since 2008 to help reach their State’s renewable energy goals through solar development.

  8. I would be interested in renting ground out for solar. Have one 110 acre field and then a couple of other fields. The land is in Eaton county. Feel free to contact me for more information

  9. I have land In Southeast Michigan that I would consider leasing. About 5-10 acres.

  10. Are you still looking for land to use for solar panels. I live in southwest Michigan and have land that is available.

  11. I have about 44.4 acres in Lenox Twp, Michigan. This is in Macomb County. It has been farmed in recent years. The farmer in interested in farming again this year. How many acres of land would be needed as a minimum?
    Our land has 2 road frontages. I believe our land is within 2 miles from a DTE substation. I can be contacted first by email. However if we don’t get connected, my phone # 586-468-3089 but if I’m not available, leave me a voice message.
    Serious contacts only.

  12. My family has 38 acres in Howard City Michigan. We were contacted via mail about leasing our land out to solar panels. We have misplaced the mail and would like information if this is still available

  13. I am a land acquisition specialist for Sustainable Energy Professionals. We are actively looking for persons interested in leasing their land for solar all over Michigan but particularly in the southern part of the state. We represent several solar companies so we are in a position to greatly increase the probability of getting your land put under a solar contract.

  14. Is there a list of Companies that want to lease land in Michigan for Solor Farms? I am interested in leasing 100 acres in Monroe County.

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