Letter to the editor: Panton land is wasted on solar

My reaction to Bill McKibben’s letter to Editor, May 16, Addison Independent, supporting the Panton solar project was one of great distress.

I’m sure that we agree on many things including the need to fight climate change. But wasting prime agricultural lands is not one of them. 

The Panton solar project will remove permanently 300 acres of prime agriculture land from production. The thought McKibben espouses that the solar panels will give the land a rest is a felicity, which will not come true. Once agricultural land is removed from production, that change is permanent. Industrialization, in this case solar, or any kind of development removes land from agriculture.

McKibben also says that the production from this land, “is not in high demand.” Well Bill, suppose you proffer that thought to the people of Gaza or the other half billion starving and malnourished people of the world.

Agriculture production is a worldwide enterprise. All crop production, no matter where, impacts world food production. If the Mato Grosso agricultural area of Brazil has a production hiccup, the price of corn is impacted worldwide. The war in Ukraine has impacted world wheat prices.

Further, Bill, solar electrons are not a crop. Not crop and food production. There are other ways to produce clean energy, and other places better suited for solar than on prime agriculture soils. These ag soils are not replaceable or expandable. Except by cutting down rain forest in some far-off place that, which you probably, and I for sure, am not in favor of.

This project proposes to construct solar panels on an area of prime agricultural soil of statewide significance. Vermont must protect its important agricultural soils. 

The soils of the Panton solar project are widely distributed throughout the Champlain Valley. These soils are highly farmable and productive. Addison County is a major agriculture area including dairy, apples, small grains, corn, hay including grasses, vegetables, legumes and other farming. Even turkeys. The soils of the proposed solar site are no different than the majority of the soils of Addison County. They are productive soils of great significance and must be protected for agriculture.

My 48 years’ experience farming these types of soils on our family farm in Orwell have shown me they are very productive and well suited to agriculture production. These soils are a large part of the soils that the Vermont Land Trust has conserved. We have conserved the whole of our 800-acre farm.

The VLT thinks conservation of agriculture soils is so important they have conserved over “10% of the 1.3 million acres of prime and statewide soils in Vermont and VLT thinks there is a lot more work to done.”

There is no way at this time to know positively how much agriculture land will be needed in Vermont for future food production, but if we do not conserve for future use the lands we now have, we will be committing a very foolish act. 

This project runs counter to Vermont’s long and successful programs of preserving farmland. Vermont has contributed millions and millions of dollars to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, for a long time. Precisely to preserve ag soils.

In 1986, as Commissioner of Agriculture, I was part of the initial effort to get legislation passed to set up the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. A large part of these funds  — taxpayers’ money —  are being used to conserve by purchasing easements on farm and forest land, via the Vermont Land Trust and other such organizations. Vermonters have taken seriously the conservation of agriculture land. These conservation efforts are designed to make sure we have farmland for the future by purchasing development rights, to conserve farm and forest land.

It is wrong to now allow the development of agriculture land, with solar panels, when so much time on the part of Vermonters, and so much money, so much good will of the people of Vermont, has been spent toward conserving irreplaceable agriculture lands.

From the Vermont Land Trust annual report 2022-2023; “Vermont’s conserved land, including the 630,000+ acres we helped protect, strengthens our ecosystems and benefits all forms of life. We are so grateful to those who, over decades, have conserved and stewarded their land to benefit all of Vermont, and beyond.”

Vermont has spent many millions of dollars on the Current Use Program (Use Value Program) to assess agriculture land and buildings fairly, so that agriculture pays its fair share of property taxes. This fair taxation significantly helps farmers keep on farming.

And lastly, Vermont regulates quite strictly a farmer’s use of manure and phosphorus and herbicides. Our farm is required to have a Nutrient Management Plan, which prescribes which fields and how much manure and phosphorus can be spread. We care about Lake Champlain. 

Bill, let’s reassess the Panton solar project. Move it somewhere else, not on prime ag soils. Let’s preserve our prime ag soils. Keep our farmers farming. Keep agricultural a vital part of Vermont. And power our EVs and heat pumps some other way.

Paul Stone


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