Agricultural Solar Stakeholder Group

Prime farmland, and soils of statewide importance that could be used as farmland in the future, are critical natural resources for Maine's agricultural productivity, biodiversity, and food security. At the same time, solar energy development is key to achieving Maine's renewable energy goals, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and growing Maine's clean energy economy.

To ensure responsible siting of solar energy on agricultural lands, the Governor's Energy Office (GEO) and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) are convening an Agricultural Solar Stakeholder Group to make policy recommendations to balance the need to protect Maine's current and future farmland against the need to develop sources of renewable solar energy.

  • Learn more about resources for agricultural solar siting here.
  • Learn more about the state's solar policies here.

Agricultural Solar Stakeholder Group final report

The final report of the Agricultural Solar Stakeholder Group was released on January 20, 2022. Based on its research and discussions, and additional input received from the public, the Stakeholder Group advanced seven consensus recommendations to the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the Governor’s Energy Office. The Stakeholder Group also developed relevant definitions and a matrix of siting considerations for practitioners. Recommendations are numbered for reference only, and not to indicate prioritization of one recommendation over another.

Recommendations

1: Creation of a centralized clearinghouse of information
2: Dual-use pilot program
3: Consideration of current use taxation
4: Consideration of standards for dual-use and co-location in permit-by-rule review
5: Development of hosting capacity maps
6: Increased support for municipal planning capacity
7: Consideration of program preference based on agricultural site characteristics

Read the final report here.

History of the Agricultural Solar Stakeholder Group

The Agricultural Solar Stakeholder group was recommended by Maine Won't Wait, Maine's four-year climate action plan from the Maine Climate Council. Maine Won't Wait, released in December 2020, identifies data-driven strategies and recommendations to reduce Maine's greenhouse gas emissions, as required by law, to 45% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

Strategy E from Maine Won't Wait is to "protect Maine's environment and working lands and waters." As part of this strategy, the plan calls for "develop[ing] policies by 2022 to ensure renewable energy project siting is streamlined and transparent while seeking to minimize impacts on natural and working lands and engaging key stakeholders" (Maine Won't Wait, p. 76).

Consistent with this recommendation and acknowledging the rapid growth of solar energy taking place in the wake of other recent policy changes, the Agricultural Solar Stakeholder Group is specifically focused on assessing the potential impact of solar development on Maine's prime farmland and soils of statewide importance.

Stakeholder Group

Co-chairs

  • Celina Cunningham, Governor's Energy Office
  • Nancy McBrady, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

Members

  • Nick Armentrout, Spring Creek Farm
  • Emily Cole, American Farmland Trust
  • Heather Donahue, Balfour Farm
  • Ellen Griswold, Maine Farmland Trust
  • Eliza Donoghue, Maine Audubon
  • Kaitlin Hollinger, BlueWave Solar
  • Matt Kearns, Longroad Energy
  • Fortunat Mueller, ReVision Energy
  • George O'Keefe, Town of Rumford
  • Jeremy Payne, Maine Renewable Energy Association
  • Andy Smith, The Milkhouse
  • Julie Ann Smith, Maine Farm Bureau
  • Patrick Wynne, City of Hallowell

Timeline

Beginning in June 2021, the Agricultural Solar Stakeholder Group met monthly to advance its purpose, and delivered a final report in January 2022.