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7 Sustainable Practices for Addressing Solar Farm Bans

Updated: Jul 9

solar farm bans

Land use and aesthetic concerns have become significant as solar energy adoption grows. In response, some communities have banned utility-scale solar energy projects. Solar farms, which occupy large land areas, can disrupt habitats and cause land use conflicts, particularly when sited on prime agricultural lands or natural habitats. Despite these challenges, solar developers can implement strategies to make their projects more sustainable and appealing. By focusing on environmental stewardship, developers can address community concerns and demonstrate that solar farms can coexist with local ecosystems and land uses.

According to USA Today, “At least 15% of counties in the U.S. have effectively halted new utility-scale wind, solar, or both… These limits come through outright bans, moratoriums, construction impediments, and other conditions that make green energy difficult to build.” 

Why Are Some Communities Banning Solar Farms?

Communities are banning solar farms mainly due to concerns about land use, such as the loss of prime agricultural land and disruption to natural habitats. Aesthetic issues, potential declines in property values, and inadequate management of local ecological impacts also contribute to resistance against these projects. Addressing these concerns with sustainable and community-focused strategies can help mitigate opposition to solar energy farms.

One way to mitigate concerns is to implement solar farm sustainability strategies that provide numerous benefits throughout the community. These strategies are crucial for conserving natural resources, making solar farms more visually appealing, and promoting biodiversity. They ensure the environmental and economic benefits of solar energy are maximized over the long term. Here are seven sustainability strategies to consider when developing a solar farm.

1 - Solar Site Selection and Planning

The importance of conducting a thorough environmental impact assessment cannot be overstated. It is a crucial step in identifying and mitigating potential ecological disruptions when establishing a solar farm. This evaluation helps select solar farm locations that minimize harm to local wildlife and ecosystems and is a key part of responsible solar farm development. 

Prioritizing rooftop installations over ground-mounted panels can significantly reduce land use conflicts and preserve natural landscapes. When ground installations are necessary, selecting previously disturbed or degraded lands, such as capped landfills or brownfields, can significantly mitigate the environmental impact on pristine areas. Human activity has already altered these sites, making them ideal for repurposing into solar farms without further disrupting natural habitats. In fact, solar farms on these properties create economic opportunities where few exist.

Avoid siting solar farms on prime agricultural lands and undisturbed natural habitats, as these areas are valuable for food production and biodiversity. In particular, steering clear of locations with critical wildlife habitats and ecologically sensitive regions helps prevent significant ecological disruption. Prioritizing already degraded or previously developed sites can mitigate environmental impacts and reduce land use conflicts when siting solar farms.

2 - Sustainable Materials for Solar Farms

Selecting sustainable materials is critical for enhancing the environmental benefits of solar energy projects. High-efficiency solar panels, which generate more electricity per square meter, are a top choice as they maximize energy output while minimizing the land area required. Brands like SunPower and First Solar are known for their high-efficiency panels and commitment to sustainability. Also, using recyclable and environmentally friendly materials can significantly reduce waste. 

Companies such as REC and Canadian Solar incorporate recycled materials in their manufacturing processes, setting industry standards for sustainability. Likewise, choosing durable and long-lasting components helps minimize the need for frequent replacements, reducing both waste and long-term maintenance costs. 

Aluminum and steel are preferred for mounting systems due to their recyclability. These metals can be easily recycled at the end of the system's lifecycle, making them a sustainable choice for solar installations. Solar energy projects can significantly lower their environmental impact and enhance sustainability by integrating high-quality, recyclable, and efficient materials.

3 - Sustainable Practices in Solar Farm Installation 

sustainable solar farms

Adopting best practices during the installation phase is crucial for minimizing the environmental impact of commercial solar projects. Minimizing soil disturbance and protecting existing vegetation are key strategies to maintain soil health and prevent erosion at solar farms. For example, no-till installation and using existing tracks for machinery can reduce soil disruption. Preserving natural vegetation around the solar project site that doesn't shade the array helps stabilize the soil and maintain local biodiversity.

Proper waste management is another critical component. Recycling packaging materials, such as cardboard and plastic, and responsibly disposing of non-recyclable waste, like certain electronic components, can significantly reduce the environmental footprint.

In addition, implementing erosion control measures, such as silt fences and sediment basins, helps prevent soil runoff and protects nearby water bodies from sedimentation, which is critical for aquatic life. Ensuring the solar installation crew is trained in environmentally friendly practices can also help. 

4 - Wildlife-friendly Fencing Around Solar Farms

Developing wildlife habitat around solar farms requires a nuanced approach to fencing that balances security measures with ecological benefits. An effective strategy involves designing fencing solutions that support both the protection of the solar infrastructure and promoting biodiversity. Using permeable fencing, establishing wildlife corridors, and making seasonal adjustments are all effective methods for enhancing the ecological value of solar farm environments while ensuring security and operational efficiency.

Permeable fencing allows smaller wildlife species to traverse the barrier without compromising security. Methods to achieve this include:

  • Raising the Fence: Elevating the bottom of the fence by a few inches off the ground creates a gap that small animals can use while keeping larger animals out.

  • Wildlife-Friendly Mesh: Employing fencing materials with mesh that has openings small enough to prevent intrusion by larger animals but large enough to allow smaller creatures to pass through. 

Another important strategy is the creation of wildlife corridors around solar farms. These corridors are designated areas where fencing is intentionally omitted or modified to allow safe passage for larger animals. Designing these corridors involves:

  • Strategic Gaps: Integrating gaps or low-traffic zones in the fence line to facilitate wildlife movement.

  • Dedicated Pathways: Establishing specific routes that guide animals through or around the solar farm without disrupting their natural behaviors or migrations.

To further align with wildlife needs, seasonal adjustments to the fencing system can be made to accommodate migration patterns and other seasonal behaviors. This involves:

  • Adjusting Fence Heights: Raising or lowering the fence depending on the season to ensure that amphibians, reptiles, and other wildlife can navigate their environments effectively.

  • Periodic Gaps: Introducing temporary or adjustable gaps during key migration periods to allow animals to access different areas as needed.

5 - Vegetative Buffers for Wildlife Around Solar Farms

sustainable solar farm

Implementing vegetative buffers around the perimeter of a solar farm is an effective way to enhance the site's ecological benefits while minimizing the visual disturbance of a solar farm. Solar farms can support local wildlife by establishing these green buffers, creating a habitat that fosters biodiversity and ecological health.

One of the most effective methods for creating these vegetative buffers is to install dense rows of native shrubs or trees along the fence line. Native species are well-adapted to the local environment, making them an excellent choice for promoting biodiversity. These plants offer a variety of benefits: they provide natural shelter for birds, insects, and small mammals, creating a safe haven from predators and harsh weather conditions. 

For example, planting native hedgerows—such as hawthorn, dogwood, or elderberry—can offer both bird nesting sites and food sources for insects, such as pollen and nectar. Additionally, shrubs like serviceberry or viburnum can attract pollinators and provide berries for various wildlife, thus supporting different species throughout the year.

Another important aspect of planting vegetative buffers is the selection of local flora that supports the specific wildlife species native to the region. By choosing plants that are naturally found in the area, solar farms can create diverse habitats that cater to the needs of local wildlife. For example, planting a mix of wildflowers, grasses, and small shrubs can create a varied environment that supports a range of insect species, including bees and butterflies, and offers cover for small mammals. This diversity not only enhances the ecological value of the site but also helps maintain a balance between the solar farm's operational needs and its environmental impact.

However, it is essential to be aware of the potential for vegetation to shade the solar panels eventually. Dense plantings that grow too close to the solar panels can obstruct sunlight and decrease the efficiency of energy production. To prevent this issue, careful planning is required to ensure that the height and spread of the vegetation are managed effectively. This might involve selecting low-growing plants for the immediate vicinity of the solar panels and regularly trimming or maintaining the buffer zone to prevent overgrowth. 

6 - Sustainable Ground Cover Management for Utility-scale Solar Projects

solar farm bans

Effective ground cover management is vital for maintaining the sustainability of commercial solar energy projects. Utilizing native and edible plants as ground cover can significantly reduce the need for mowing, thus lowering maintenance costs and promoting biodiversity. Native plants are adapted to the local environment, requiring less water and chemicals and providing habitat for local wildlife. For instance, pollinator-friendly plants such as native wildflowers can be integrated to support bee populations. 

“The long-term cost over the life of the facility to maintain pollinator habitat is half or even less than the cost to establish and maintain turfgrass,” said Heidi Hartman, Program Manager for Argonne National Laboratory, in an interview with Earth911. “I’ve seen a variety of costs, and it varies job by job because of the mowing costs.

In the first four years, pollinator habitat is more expensive because the wildflower seeds are more expensive than the turfgrass seeds. Once established, native wildflowers need much less maintenance, and they only need one mowing a year. They are also much more resistant to drought and soil erosion. Even 20 years down the road, the soil underneath will be in good condition to return it to valuable cropland.”

7 - Sheep Grazing at Solar Farms

In addition to plant-based ground cover, incorporating livestock such as sheep for grazing at solar farms presents a sustainable alternative to traditional mowing methods. This approach helps manage vegetation and offers multiple ecological and operational benefits.

Sheep grazing is an effective, environmentally friendly way to control vegetation growth around the solar panels. Unlike mowing, which requires fossil fuels and regular maintenance, sheep naturally graze on the grasses and plants that can otherwise encroach on the solar panels, reducing the need for mechanical mowing equipment. Additionally, their grazing activities contribute to soil health by providing natural fertilization through their manure, which adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

This method is particularly effective for solar farms with extensive, flat areas or rural settings where sheep can graze without disrupting surrounding land uses. It is also well-suited for sites with established vegetation, where sheep can graze between the rows of solar panels. 

Solar farms can establish partnerships with local sheep farmers to maximize the benefits of this approach. Such collaborations can help ensure the grazing schedule aligns with the farmers’ needs and the solar farm’s operational requirements. For example, farmers can rotate sheep through different sections of the solar farm, promoting even grazing and preventing overgrazing in any one area.

Such partnerships with local ranchers can support local agriculture by providing farmers with additional grazing land and fostering community engagement through shared environmental stewardship. Together, these practices create a symbiotic relationship that enhances the solar farm's ecological value while supporting sustainable agricultural practices.

Enhancing Solar Farm Appeal With Sustainability

In recent years, some communities have started to ban solar farms due to concerns over land use, visual impact, and potential effects on local ecosystems. Numerous counties across the United States have enacted moratoriums or outright bans on developing new renewable energy projects. These actions are driven by fears that large-scale solar installations might disrupt rural landscapes, affect property values, or interfere with agricultural activities and wildlife. As a result, solar developers face increasing pressure to demonstrate that their projects offer more than just clean energy and positively contribute to local communities.

Solar developers can emphasize sustainable practices that align with local values to counteract these concerns and make solar farms more attractive. Implementing native wildflowers as groundcovers supports local biodiversity and enhances solar farms' visual appeal. Vegetative buffers, such as planting hedgerows and native shrubs along the perimeter, can provide wildlife habitats and create aesthetically pleasing green spaces that minimize the visual impact of solar farms. Solar developers can demonstrate their commitment to local communities by adopting these sustainable strategies, potentially easing community objections and fostering support for future solar energy projects.

sustainability solar farms

State and local laws, such as setback requirements, determine the criteria for installing a solar farm. Various federal, state, and local agencies may need to approve a solar project before it can proceed. Solar farm permitting and siting can often take a long time, so teaming with us can be a smart move.

GreenLancer specializes in solar permitting, engineering, and interconnection. Our solar design services include PV plan sets, interconnection applications, and PE stamps for residential, commercial, and utility-scale solar installations. Create an account for free to get started.


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