The conflict in Ukraine is reminding the Western world about the importance of energy independence and food security. World leaders, including the Biden administration, argue we must increase wind and solar energy production to reduce dependence on Russian energy. But as Russia’s invasion has demonstrated, this strategy already failed and, in fact, helped bring this war about in the first place.
By strangling U.S. energy producers, the White House has fueled skyrocketing oil prices and enriched Russia’s rulers. An added consequence: Americans are now grappling with the highest gas prices ever recorded. And the pain doesn’t stop at the pump. Food prices, in particular wheat, have soared to record-breaking levels as well.
That’s why our response to Moscow’s aggression must be to maximize our ability to produce the energy and food the world desperately needs right here at home. That starts with preserving farmland for future generations.
Thanks to the dizzying array of renewable energy carve-outs that litter our tax code, taxpayers are forced to underwrite generous “green energy” giveaways, allowing power companies to effectively tap the public treasury to subsidize unreliable wind and solar farms. As a result, prime agricultural land is often taken out of production, posing a long-term threat to America’s ability to feed the world.
Industrial solar and wind facilities are land-hungry ways to generate electricity that often fail to show up when we need them most. It takes approximately 8 acres of land per megawatt of installed solar capacity and an average of 106 acres per megawatt of wind energy. While it is possible to “farm around” wind turbines, this is not possible with solar panels.
This means increasing our reliance on unreliable wind and solar energy will consume enormous quantities of land while paradoxically making us more reliant on foreign countries for the power we need to heat our homes and run our factories. In fact, the amount of land needed to deploy intermittent wind and solar resources is even more considerable when one accounts for the low productivity relative to other energy sources.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, solar panels in Wisconsin produced just 16% of their potential output in 2020, and wind turbines produced 27.5% of theirs. In other words, the vast majority of the time, Wisconsinites still rely on electricity generation sources that actually work persistently, such as coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, and natural gas.
Further, EIA data reveal that Wisconsin uses 7,014 MW of electricity, on average, every hour of the year. Therefore, it would require a whopping 350,700 acres of solar panels, or 2.6 million acres of wind turbines, to get that much power generation after accounting for the low production of wind turbines and solar panels. Yet, the average farm size in Wisconsin is 222 acres. This means generating 7,104 MW of solar on average every hour of the year would require the land equivalent of 1,579 Wisconsin farms.
That’s why we are working to enact the Future Agriculture Retention and Management or FARM Act, which would get taxpayers out of the business of transforming actual farms into wind and solar farms.
Some critics have argued that this bill is anti-wind and anti-solar. But that simply isn’t true. If electric companies want to build wind turbines or solar panels, nothing in the bill prevents them from doing so. But it does prevent taxpayer funds from tipping the scales in favor of wind and solar development at the expense of food production.
Our nation projects strength abroad not only through our military might but also through our ability to help feed our allies and produce our own reliable energy. Putting taxpayers on the hook to bankroll gold-plated subsidies to the green lobby hamstrings our ability to do that.
The FARM Act is a much-needed policy that will restore common sense and fairness to energy and agricultural policy by removing the corporate welfare that has propped up substandard energy sources for far too long.
Tom Tiffany represents Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House. Isaac Orr is a policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment. Both authors grew up on dairy farms in Wisconsin.
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