A key senator is proposing new restrictions for commercially owned solar installations placed on farmland.

Senate Ag Committee chairman Dan Zumbach said the goal is to establish limits on how close solar arrays may be to property lines, farm buildings and homes.

“Most people that live around them don’t like what they look like when they’re used to looking at farmland or pastures and see this new industrial product coming in on farmland,” Zumbach said.

Zumbach, a Republican from Ryan, said it’s time to set rules for an industry that’s in its infancy. Representatives for utility companies and developers say requiring solar arrays to be 1200 feet from a residence or livestock facility would be a “project killer.”

“We fundamentally believe that this is a decision that should be made by the landowner as opposed to the state legislature trying to make it for them,” said Christopher Rants, a lobbyist for NextEra Energy which is developing two solar array projects in Iowa.

The Iowa Farm Bureau supports some restrictions. However, Farm Bureau lobbyist Matt Gronewald warned that the bill as currently written may prohibit farmers from installing solar panels to generate electricity for their operations.

“Perhaps including a minimum acreage of solar facilities being 40 acres or larger might address that,” he said during a subcommittee hearing Monday.

Dustin Miller, a lobbyist for the American Clean Power Association, said the bill proposes “pretty onerous” restrictions.

“The only thing that this would really standardize is a halt in investment,” Miller said. “…What nuisance are we trying to cure here?”

Last year, Zumbach proposed a ban on placing solar arrays on land rated as highly suitable for growing corn and soybeans. However, Zumbach said he learned that approach would have shifted solar development to areas of the state with the least productive farmland.

Radio Iowa