By Christen Smith

The Center Square  Sep 3, 2020

Proposed legislation enabling electricity credits for community solar panels may just benefit Pennsylvania’s struggling farmers the most.

At least, so say the clean energy groups testifying in favor of House Bill 531 this week. The proposal, under consideration in the House Consumer Affairs Committee, would allow residents to invest in solar panels installed on open land and receive a credit on their electricity bill as if the units were on their own roofs instead.

“There is no question that HB 531 would help farmers to diversify their profits and productivity, and take advantage of the unused open space on hillsides, on the roofs of barns, chicken houses and other structures,” said Chad Forcey, executive director of the Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum. “On the land itself, farmers can take advantage of temporary development enhancements. Soybeans, pollinator-friendly crops and even beehives can flourish underneath solar panels.”

Leslie Elder, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, said investors will move forward with more than 220 “shovel-ready” projects in over 40 counties – as soon as the bill passes. The deals have already secured between $3 and $4 million in land leases for farmers.

She said the legislation provides a lifeline to farmers, hit hard by tanking milk prices and broken supply chains.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau likewise lent their support to the legislation in 2019, recognizing that agriculture can “play a key developmental role.”

“This is a case where there is strength in numbers,” Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Brad Roae, R-Crawford, said. “When people work together and pool their resources, they often can accomplish more together than they ever could while they were apart.”