Siting solar projects: The right power in the right place

Terri Lane, executive director at the accredited Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, was aware of the important role land trusts can play in clean energy siting, but until recently this was not an immediate concern in her area.

By Marina Schauffler April 4

Then one day a local preservation advocacy group told her that the City of Fayetteville — where the land trust is located — was planning a large solar installation on what Lane calls “one of the last pockets of unplowed virgin prairie left in the area.”

Teaming up with the advocacy group, NWALT met with the city’s mayor. Fayetteville was the first city in Arkansas to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2030, and the proposed solar construction on city-owned land would offset electricity use at wastewater facilities that represent two-thirds of municipal consumption.

The meeting went very well, she says, in part because the land trust already had a constructive working relationship with city administrators. “It’s definitely important to establish those relationships in advance,” Lane says.

“We applauded their intent,” Lane recalls, “and came prepared with an alternative site”— an adjacent city-owned parcel with no significant agricultural or ecological value. Although construction at that site would cost more, the city agreed to relocate its planned solar installation.

NWALT encouraged the city to go a step further, permanently protecting the original prairie parcel as another means to sequester carbon. City officials agreed, and the land trust is now completing a conservation easement and land management agreement and planning a small walking trail on the land where area residents can enjoy birding and rare plants (over 200 plant species were identified in a recent “botany blitz”).

It was affirming, Lane says, to have such a clear “win-win” resolution.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2019 issue of Saving Land magazine.