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Solar regulations pending

Solar panels in West Baton Rouge Parish

The United States wants to be a leader in clean energy and energy providers are looking at alternate ways to deliver power to their customers.

Instead of drilling in the ground searching for oil, the energy industry is taking a hard look at the surface of the earth for clean fuel. Two potential sectors are wind and solar. Yet there are still many unanswered questions as to the viability and reliability of these new sources of electricity.

By Jim Simon
American Sugar Cane League

A cross-country drive through north Texas and Oklahoma will provide a view of plenty of wind farms. Can Louisiana take advantage of onshore and offshore wind opportunities? It’s possible. For the time being, the largest concentration of commercial wind power is off the coast of Rhode Island at the Block Island Wind Farm. Louisiana’s large and skilled offshore oil and gas workforce will be a big resource for investors in wind power. Indeed, Louisiana’s offshore workforce has been instrumental in helping build the Rhode Island industry.

Investors in clean energy are also looking at land, including agricultural land, to build solar farms. A 550-acre solar farm owned by Entergy on Rosedale Road (La. 76) is fully operational. The power plant has the energy capacity to power 9,600 homes. It’s expected the farm will generate $6.4 million in tax revenue over the next 30 years. Sounds like a lot of money, but simple math says it’s about $213,000 per year. What happens at the end of a 30-year lease is something that should concern landowners.

The American Sugar Cane League has always favored landowner rights, so we have taken an interest in how to best protect landowners and to make sure that we fully consider the long-term impact of taking our lands out of agricultural production. Since several sugarcane producers and landowners are entertaining offers for solar energy producers, the League is concerned about what happens at the end of a solar farm lease.  We don’t want to see landowners stuck with the costs to rehabilitate an abandoned solar farm. We are all too familiar with such clean-ups as there are more than 4,000 abandoned oil wells on private land in Louisiana. Many of these old wells are leaking pollutants into the environment. An estimated $650 million will be needed to fix all these issues.

State Senator Bret Allain, a sugarcane producer, is well aware of the abandoned well issue and sponsored legislation in Louisiana’s legislature for the state to receive $200 million in federal grants to address the problem. Allain is also keenly aware that the solar energy industry is in its infancy and wants to make sure that landowners are protected from clean-up costs if a solar farm lease should go south for any reason.

Allain and State Representative Jean-Paul Coussan of Lafayette co-sponsored a measure that establishes decommissioning regulations for utility-scale solar projects. The rules will require companies to pay permitting fees and purchase a bond payable to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources as financial collateral in the event the company abandons the projects without restoring the land.

As solar power production matures, Louisiana’s landowners may see a profitable potential to lease land for energy production. The American Sugar Cane League will monitor the growing sector and advise its members accordingly.

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