How To Harvest Clean Energy From Degraded Farmland

For Immediate Release

Berkeley Law: Susan Gluss,, 510-642-6936
UCLA Law: Lauri Gavel,, 310-206-2611

Berkeley, CA—October 24, 2011…. California’s ambitious goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 could receive a significant boost if the state built large-scale solar plants on degraded farmland, according to a new report. Harvesting Clean Energy: How California Can Deploy Large-Scale Renewable Energy Projects on Appropriate Farmland, outlines steps government leaders can take to expedite development of these projects. It explains how to identify appropriate sites, but emphasizes the need to preserve prime land for high-value crops and protect natural habitats.

Harvesting Clean Energy is a joint publication of the UCLA and University of California, Berkeley, Schools of Law; its content and recommendations were developed from a climate change workshop with business, environmental, academic and government leaders. The report’s primary author, Ethan Elkind, will be presenting the key findings Mon., Oct. 24, at 1pm (PT) in Fresno before the California State Assembly Select Committee on the Renewable Energy Economy in Rural California.

The report finds that developers of huge solar facilities may need as much as 100,000 acres of land across the state in order to produce the required energy in the next decade. While state and federal agencies have approved renewable energy projects on public lands, developers in California are increasingly looking to agricultural land to site their projects.

For some farmers, it’s an opportunity to develop renewable energy facilities on marginal cropland. But many of these agricultural acres have significant biological value, providing habitat for endangered species. The state also has policies in place to protect farmland from encroaching urban development. Consequently, some of these large-scale energy projects have faced permit delays and litigation, even if thefarmland is barren or contaminated.

“It’s important to strike a careful balance between demands for food and energy,” said report author Ethan Elkind, research fellow at UCLA Law and Berkeley Law. “The state needs to preserve its prime farmland yet actively develop these projects on appropriate sites to meet our state’s energy needs.”

A key obstacle, according to the report, is a lack of a statewide definition of ‘marginal’ or ‘impaired’ farmlands, which leaves developers without proper guidance. “State and local governments need to provide direction and incentives for developers to find the right agricultural land,” Elkind said.

Harvesting Clean Energy describes the major obstacles to building large-scale renewable energy facilities on farmland and makes key recommendations to overcome these barriers, including:

  • define suitable farmland for large-scale solar plant development;
  • streamline and coordinate the permit process across jurisdictions; and
  • upgrade the electricity infrastructure to accommodate renewable energy generation.

“The state has an interest in ensuring that renewable energy development not only proceeds, but also that critical environmental resources will be protected,” Elkind said.

Harvesting Clean Energy is the ninth in a series of reports on how business leaders and policy makers can address climate change. The workshops and reports are sponsored by Bank of America and produced by the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment and the Environmental Law Center at UCLA School of Law, and Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE).

To read a full copy of Harvesting Clean Energy, visit the Berkeley Law or the UCLA Law website. To arrange interviews with Ethan Elkind, contact him directly at or 310-729-0902.

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