Down On The Farm, Clean Energy Requirements Are Opportunities, Not Burdens


(Credit: AP/Ajit Solanki)

(Credit: AP/Ajit Solanki)

American farmers aren’t usually seen as champions of climate causes — in fact, they’re often known for their climate change skepticism. But farmers across the country have begun standing up for clean energy mandates in their states because they see them as an opportunity for profit in an increasingly uncertain industry.

This year, at least 14 of the 29 states with renewable energy mandates, which require utility companies to purchase a certain amount of their energy from renewable sources, have considered bills to weaken or repeal the requirements, none of which have passed. That’s due in part to farmers, who have teamed up with environmentalists and other pro-green energy groups to push legislators to keep the mandates. Their voices, along with the voices of some local businesses and the prospect of new clean energy jobs, have made it difficult for local lawmakers to repeal the standards.

“It’s hard to be conservative when it affects your district,” Rep. Mike Hager, the majority whip in the North Carolina House, told the Wall Street Journal.

Farmers’ reasons for supporting the mandates are profit-based: some want to ensure they still have a healthy market for leasing their land to solar and wind companies, and others want to continue to harvest their animals’ waste as fuel. With the help of anaerobic digesters, hog farmers can capture the methane from pig waste and turn it into fuel, which they can use to power their equipment or sell to utility companies. North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard requires utilities in the state to purchase .2 percent of their fuel from hog waste by 2018 and 900,000 MWh from poultry waste by 2015 — requirements chicken and hog farmers don’t want to lose.

But regardless of their reasons, supporting renewable energy mandates, and thus ensuring that states uphold that portion of climate mitigation, makes sense for farmers, who are increasingly threatened by the effects of climate change. The 2012 U.S. drought hit the farming industry hard, with ranchers forced to sell their cattle herds and corn, wheat and soybean farmers suffering serious crop losses. Many farmers aren’t doing much better this summer: in the Midwest, the drought that began last year has ended with torrential rains, which, according to the New York Times, have “drowned corn and soybean plants, stunted their growth or prevented them from being planted at all.” Extreme drought and wildfires in New Mexico have helped cut the state’s cattle herd by more than half since 2008, and nowthreaten traditional, small-scale ranching most of all.

The farmers’ choice to take sides with the renewable energy industry is also another example of the surprising alliances being formed in the fight for clean energy. Earlier this month, members of the Atlanta Tea Party worked with clean energy advocates to help pass a solar requirement for Georgia Power, the state’s utility provider. The Tea Partiers — which have historically been dismissive of climate change — saw the requirement not as an example of undue government regulation but as an expansion of consumer choice. The Georgia Public Service Commission passed the solar requirement last week.

11 Responses to Down On The Farm, Clean Energy Requirements Are Opportunities, Not Burdens

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    Down on The Farm

    Passionate good-guy Paul Ehrlich, good-guy of questionable effectiveness Steven Chu, committed climate-champion good-guy (now passed away, sadly) Stephen Schneider, and long-time ExxonMobil Board Member Michael Boskin (I’ll leave it to the audience to recognize whether that’s good or bad) are or were all on The Farm — meaning at Stanford.

    To me, in light of climate change and other immense problems, this raises a question about the role of the university as an institution in modern society.

    What is Stanford doing regarding climate change as an institution, REALLY? Here, I’m not talking about things like greening the campus and so forth. Instead, I’m talking about speaking out with a strong institutional voice of wisdom to help educate society about climate change and help prompt policy makers to get their acts together to do something wise and responsible about it. Is there such a thing as an institutional voice of wisdom these days? And how ’bout Harvard, Berkeley, and so forth and so on? Have they all caught laryngitis?

    Of course, many wonderful and wise individual faculty members of these places and others are speaking out, largely as individuals. But the universities themselves are not acting like anything much more than large pieces of real estate, regarding climate change. Probably less than several hundred yards from each other sit the offices of world-renowned biologists and climate scientists (on the one hand) and (on the other hand) an economics professor who has been on ExxonMobil’s Board for years, one of the leaders who (apparently) has been steering it, or at least condoning the steering, to contribute to global climate destabilization. How is THAT wisdom?

    I would hope that someday Stanford and other places like it will speak out boldly to “tell it like it is” regarding climate change in a way that — if Stanford and Harvard and Berkeley and etc. etc. all do it — society and the politicians will have no credible choice but to take note!

    In the meantime, I suppose, it’ll just be another day on The Farm (as emissions flow and the climate worsens).



  2. Paul Klinkman says:

    A farmer showed me a map of his mountainous farm and except for the field in the middle it was chock full of 5000M. I asked him “What’s 5000M?” He turned the map upside down and then it said “WOODS”.

    Most farmers are sellers of renewable energy, either as logs, as straw or as seed oils. In addition, as large landowners farmers generally want to keep their solar and wind options open. They don’t owe OPEC a thing.

  3. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Strange bedfellows and parallel developments. Local farmers in Northern NSW are taking Whitehaven Coal to court for its proposal for a huge open cut mine on prime farm land. The old left and right labels died a while back now, ME

  4. VoterWid says:

    People that rely on land for their living know that the land needs to be sustained and healthy in order for them to live. So of course green tech makes sense to them.

  5. Emily P says:

    America has the natural resources to meet its energy demand with clean, renewable energy. It’s time to harness that full potential.

  6. Susan Bell says:

    Global clean energy investment hit a record $260 billion in 2011. That’s five times as much as 2004. The shift to clean energy is already happening.

  7. kermit says:

    People who farm their own land also want to pass it on to their children one day. CEOs who take over large corporations worry only about themselves, and plan only to their own retirement.

  8. Rebecca Shersnow says:

    Clean energy investment continues to grow as those who rely on a consistent climate understand they must create change the climate back or lose their livelihoods.

  9. gomezjunco says:

    Is it too hard to go to the moon, eradicate smallpox or end apartheid? Is it too hard to build a computer that fits in your pocket? No? Then it’s not too hard to build a clean energy future, either.

  10. David Mac says:

    America has the natural resources to meet its energy demand with clean, renewable energy. It’s time to harness that full potential.

  11. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    US has long history of utilising Renewables like Water pumping windmills,small wind turbines etc. Today US leads(second) in Wind Energy in the World.

    It is hoped US will go all out to harness Offshore Wind energy in the coming years.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India