Fields of solar panels displace wildlife
In Maine, in case you hadn’t noticed, fields of solar panels are multiplying like seagulls at a landfill. In 2021, there were a reported 3,500 sprawling photovoltaic solar installations on what were once open fields or forests. Reportedly, these solar installations generate about 300 megawatts of electricity for the power grid, or less than three percent of our state energy usage.
Like so many alternative energy sources, these solar development investments are driven by social concern about fossil fuel energy and incentivized by tax policy, tax credits.
In energy development, like so many other human endeavors, there is no free lunch. There is an ancillary cost/benefit factor associated with solar development that has nothing to do with bank loans and tax incentives. Like solar windmills rising above Maine’s forested skyline, these rolling fields of solar panels are incongruous at best and, to some of us, downright ugly.
Apparently Mainers have reconciled themselves to the visual assault, for the good of man and climate change mitigation.You don’t hear much pushback from Maine citizens.
What about these fields of solar panels? Will this runaway solar development continue until every field and forest edge in Maine is populated by these futuristic eyesores? These fields, by night, are critical grazing areas for all manner of wildlife. A fenced in solar farm displaces wildlife habitat significantly.
Recently, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) testified in support of a bill, LD 1881, that is intended to address this issue.
This bill requires developers of solar energy projects to pay a compensation fee or pay for conservation efforts to mitigate adverse effects on prime agricultural soils or soils of statewide importance. It also requires developers of solar energy developments, wind energy developments or high-impact electric transmission lines to pay a compensation fee to fund off-site habitat improvement or preservation projects to mitigate the adverse effects of a development on wildlife and fisheries habitats.
Here is part of SAM Executive Director David Trahan’s testimony: “Everything wild uses fields at one time or another. To argue fencing in a 50- or 500-acre field does not harm wildlife is to ignore the fact that animals using these areas must travel greater distances because of fences, they must find new food sources, cross dangerous roads and simply must live in a smaller natural world. Whatever this committee does with this bill, there is no mistaking the impact of fenced solar development on our wildlife on forested and non-forested lands. I have no preference how this committee mitigates the impact of solar development on wildlife, but please do not underestimate how valuable farmland is as wildlife habitat.”
“If I said to you, this committee could restore thousands of acres of prime wildlife habitat and open fields in less than a year, you might challenge me. I would respond by quoting President Ronald Reagan, ‘tear down this wall.”
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.sportingjournal.com.