Balancing Food Production with Green Energy
The geography of the San Joaquin Valley – one of the most transformed landscapes in the country – continues to be in flux as the demands for green, renewable energy threaten its highly productive farmlands.
Landscape level change is nothing new for the region. Before the dams in the Sierra Nevada and infrastructure of canals on the valley floor, the largest lake west of the Mississippi River once covered more than 600 square miles between Bakersfield and Corcoran. Once drained, this same region became one of the most productive agricultural places in the world. Today, however, with oil prices rising and the ecological costs of fossil fuel use weighing upon our environment, this same landscape is being considered for numerous, large-scale solar photovoltaic projects. These solar projects will, at least temporarily, convert farmland into solar panels. Some see the transition leading to the permanent conversion of farmland to more industrial uses.
How should we utilize our natural resources? Should the San Joaquin Valley, once an immense wetland, be utilized today to ensure food security or energy production? Are there solutions that can achieve a balance between these competing demands? These questions are being raised throughout the region as solar energy companies begin purchasing farmland (some under Williamson contract) for conversion. Agricultural advocates, like the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Fresno County Farm Bureau, have called for solar projects to be placed on marginal lands with less productive soils rather than prime farmland.
Currently counties throughout the region are deliberating policies to accommodate the various interests in these debates. On a state level, the Wolk Amendment (SB 618) also seeks to clarify some of the issues regarding the development of solar photovoltaic facilities.