A new bill that would forbid energy companies from installing solar panels on land suitable for corn and soybeans was approved by Republicans on the Senate Ag Committee.

According to a Radio Iowa Report, Republican Senator Dan Zumbach sponsored the bill because of a “rapidly expanding” solar farm in his district.

Solar panels Photovoltaic systems - aerial view

In the committee debate about the bill, Zumbach said “It’s about protecting our most precious resource and that’s Iowa’s farmland.”

According to the bill; solar panel fields would have to be at least a half-mile away from other solar installations and 1250 feet from the property line. It would also forbid solar installations on land with a “Corn Suitability Rating” of 65 or above, meaning the soil is fertile for row crops.

Eastern Iowa has some of the highest solar installation rates. Washington, Linn, and Johnson lead installation rates in 2020 with more than 400 installations each. Dubuque and Winneshiek each had more than 200 installations.  The leading user of solar in these areas is farmers.

Democrat Senator Kevin Kinney said the bill would limit his local Rural Electric Cooperatives from expanding its solar operation- which is five miles from his farm.

“We’re also dealing with property rights, someone owning a property and being able to do with that property as they wish,” Kinney said.

Democrats on the Ag Committee voted against the bill. According to the Senate Democratic leader, the bill would have a “chilling effect” on investment in solar installations in the state.

Zumbach is open to change to the bill. He says that because there are currently no statewide restrictions on solar, “lines in the sand” are needed.

“I’m saying the word ‘sand’ because lines in the sand are movable,” Zumbach said, “but what we do need to have is some good energy policy on putting solar farms on agricultural land which is being used for agricultural purposes and having respect for folks on both sides of those fence lines.”

The Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives is opposed to the bill while the Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa Farmers Union are undecided.

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