By Tacy Callies
Some growers have found their abandoned citrus groves “make the perfect property” for solar energy developments, says Michael Minton of Dean Mead law firm. Minton summarizes a presentation he made about solar energy opportunities for agriculturists at the recent Florida Agriculture Financial Management Conference, held in the Orlando area.
“We have found the various utilities we’ve worked with … are looking for properties that are in the range of 300 to 500 acres,” Minton says. “They need to be located near (electric) transmission lines that have capacity, preferably if there’s a substation nearby. They need to have an unobstructed view of the sun, which in Florida is not that difficult to achieve; you just basically have to worry about trees. And then they are looking for properties that have little, if any, wetlands and little, if any, endangered species.” Both abandoned citrus groves and cattle ranch property are often perfect for solar energy development, he adds.
Minton says the property needs to be accessible by public roadway. “The other big issue is making sure it’s not too close to other neighbors, because even though it’s a green technology, you still have the ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome that comes from having neighbors that don’t want a solar array near them,” he says.
Solar energy developments have become a good marketplace for disposing of citrus groves “either through sale or long-term lease,” Minton says. “And then you’ll have the power company itself either develop it as a solar field, or there’ll be an investor group that will come in and develop the solar field and they’ll sell power onto the grid through a purchase-power agreement.”
Most of Dean Mead’s clients have found solar energy “gives them a way to dispose of property that’s not currently in production,” Minton says. “It yields them a higher return than if they tried to do some other form of agricultural product.”
Minton says it’s often up to the power company whether property for solar energy development will be sold or leased. Some power companies prefer to own the property; others prefer to purchase power from the developer, he says.
“There are a lot of tax incentives for those that want to develop that type of infrastructure,” Minton says.
Some property owners have found either leasing or selling property for solar energy is a great way to diversity their revenue streams, Minton adds. Those who lease get long-term agreements; those who sell often buy other income-producing assets.
“There’s going to be a lot of change in the future on how solar power is treated,” Minton says. He thinks solar energy developments will eventually occur on less than the 300 to 500 acres currently needed.