Clean Energy

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

By Katie Valentine on Jul 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm

 

(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.