Solar Farms the New Wave of “Agriculture”?

LAST UPDATED: March 30th, 2020

Ivanpah Solar Power Facility outside Primm, Nevada.
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility outside Primm, Nevada.

Are Solar farms the new wave of “agriculture”?

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Development

The goals for establishing solar panels is to provide energy production to lessen the reliance upon energy sources that are considered a negative impact upon the environment or are available in limited quantity. Make sense, right? Our local electrical utility mostly owned by Warren Buffet got caught sleeping at the wheel and lazily cashed gross profit margin checks of over 40% (estimated based on insider conversations) while the norm today in global electrical sales is around 18%-22%.

Conditions have changed radically since the legislature passed AB 661. In 2003, Nevada Power Co. owned enough power plants to meet only 44 percent of demand, leaving it dependent on expensive imported power from volatile markets. Since then, the utility has gone on a building/buying spree and now owns enough generation to satisfy 72 percent of its load. There’s no longer a shortage of affordable power. If anything, thanks to the overbuilding of natural gas plants in the West, there’s a bit of a glut. Western power is pretty cheap right now.
courtesy of

No wonder that SWITCH, MGM, Caesars and others have filed to opt-out of the incumbent assumed electrical utility provider.

Too, current federal or state mandates and tax incentives that make this technology feasible may not exist in the future. Lastly, technology changes rapidly. Thus, carefully examine the transition. Past solar and wind farm production has experienced this situation and many sites were abandoned rather than upgraded. Also consider that the goal of those developing solar farms is to make a profit. Farmland within Craven County, NC is valued between $2,500-$4,000 per acre.

Yet companies are willing to pay upward to $800-$1000/ac per year for twenty years. This is a much, much higher payment to the landowner than the company would make should they simply decide to purchase the farm. Thus, it begs the question as to why a company would choose to pay a much higher rate to a landowner rather than purchase the farm to realize a higher profit. Logically, this decision does not appear to be the most profitable choice for the developing company.

As such, there is more than profit to consider when transitioning farmland to solar farms. Perhaps the most troubling issue involving solar farm establishment is to consider the possibility that the solar farm is abandoned within the first few years.

If this occurs, what risks or financial obligation will the landowner face? Can the solar farm actually be decommissioned with ease and low cost? Will the farm be limited in use due to environmental, wetland or even contractual limitation? These types of consideration must be examined prior to converting land from agricultural use to solar farms.

Ivanpah Solar Power Facility outside Primm, Nevada.
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility outside Primm, Nevada. Photo was taken off State Highway 164 outside Nipton, California heading towards I-15.

Anyone that has left Las Vegas and driven towards California cannot miss the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility outside Primm, Nevada at the stateline. The plant has a gross capacity of 392 megawatts. It deploys 173,500 heliostats, each with two mirrors focusing solar energy on boilers located on three centralized solar power towers.

…the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility formally opened on February 13, 2014. In 2014, it was the world’s largest solar thermal power station.

The first unit of the system was connected to the electrical grid in September 2013 for an initial synchronization test. The facility formally opened on February 13, 2014. In 2014, it was the world’s largest solar thermal power station. Fields of heliostat mirrors focus sunlight on receivers located on centralized solar power towers. The receivers generate steam to drive specially adapted steam turbines.

If you are driving on I-95 towards Laughlin, you will notice the Nevada Solar One farm to the right. Nevada Solar One uses proprietary technology to track the sun’s location and concentrate its rays during peak demand hours. The plant uses 760 parabolic trough concentrators with more than 182,000 mirrors that concentrate the sun’s rays onto more than 18,240 receiver tubes placed at the focal axis of the troughs and containing a heat transfer fluid (solar receivers). Fluid that heats up to 735 °F (391 °C) flows through these tubes and is used to produce steam that drives a Siemens SST-700 steam turbine, adapted to the specific requirements of the CSP technology, which is connected to a generator to produce electricity.

Nevada is primed to be one of the largest producers of solar farms as much of the 70 million+ acres owned by BLM are considered rural and not residentially habitable. The key will be battery plants similar to Tesla’s Gigafactory where the storage of this solar power can be kept on the shelf for raining days and consumer needs.

technicians walking solar farm

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