We must preserve property rights in rural Iowa

Ray Gaesser.

Iowa farmers have always been energy farmers. Throughout history, farmers have led the way on innovation and continuously found new ways to feed and fuel the world. Now, our farmers have the opportunity to help power the world in a way that creates energy independence and brings economic opportunities to our rural communities. Tama County shouldn’t be left out.

As a farmer myself and Chair of the Iowa Conservative Energy Forum, I’ve enjoyed the close-knit agriculture community in Iowa that makes it a great place to live, farm and raise a family. Unfortunately, we are losing civility in our local discussions when it comes to renewable energy.

Any new development proposed in rural communities, regardless of industry or scope, can spur passionate responses from all viewpoints. Throughout history, fear has always been an obstruction tactic to stop progress. While topics may change through the years, the ability for misinformation to spread quickly has remained the same. The same holds true for current discussions about solar energy and it’s important we come together, remove the emotion, and have a fact-based discussion.

I believe Iowa farmers have been successful due in large part to our ability to be the stewards of our private land. We don’t tell our neighbors which crops to plant, which must hold true if farmers choose to harvest the sun with solar panels on their land as well.

People opposed to renewable energy projects often cite property rights as a reason to oppose a development near them. The irony is that they advocate to the supervisors to remove the property rights from anyone who wants to lease their land for a solar project. This drought-proof crop is more important than ever for our farmers, and we can’t take that right to choose away from them.

The bottom line is it appears some people don’t want solar panels on their land, which is their right, but they also want to prevent neighbors from the opportunity too. Unfortunately, the opposition uses fear and misinformation to make their case.

I have heard too many myths about renewable energy to regurgitate, but the simple truth is that renewables have worked in Iowa for decades. Early leaders like Governor Terry Branstad and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley helped spur our state’s energy diversification in the 1980s. Since then, renewable energy has successfully worked in Iowa by providing low-cost energy to our grid and keeping electric rates below the national average.

Renewable energy’s economic impact in Iowa is undeniable. Clean energy projects have spurred $23 billion in capital investment throughout Iowa, generated more than 5,000 jobs and provide $58.8 million in local tax revenue annually. Perhaps most important of all, clean energy projects provide $70 million annually in lease payments to our Iowa farmers and help them hedge against an ever-fluctuating commodity market.

Renewable energy projects can often be the largest taxpayer in our rural counties, funding critical services like roads, bridges, schools and public safety to name a few.

It’s important to push back on misinformation and share facts. Throughout my career, I have seen the spread of these fear messages used to oppose numerous initiatives. I call it the Precautionary Principle when people spread fear about what could happen, but not what is likely to happen. I experienced this during soybean trade negotiations with the EU and China. The simple goal is to spread fear in an attempt to keep something out, and I urge county leaders to rise above it.

Rural Iowa is a great place to live, and I believe we truly all want what is best for our farms and families. Leveraging solar energy development can help keep family farms in the family for generations to come, while also bringing in new revenue to fund services and amenities.

I respectfully urge Iowans to please allow individuals to do their due diligence and make their own decisions about their private land. Many counties have developed common sense, balanced rules and regulations for solar energy development, and so can Tama County.

Ray Gaesser is the chair of the Iowa Conservative Energy Forum.