Many people support renewable energy, as long as they don’t have to see solar panels or wind turbines.
The Ray, an advocacy group for solar power, proposes a unique idea. It notes that state transportation departments own and maintain significant land along highways, known as “right-of-way” areas. These areas could be ideal for renewable energy projects due to factors such as unshaded land, easy accessibility, public ownership, and lack of competing developments.
Benefits of Highway Solar Farms
Since states already control highway rights-of-way, highway solar farms reduce conflicts and simplify the development of sites for solar energy generation.
Unlike large utility-scale solar projects, which can take several years to complete, solar panels can be quickly installed along highways. Areas along highways are often near existing transmission lines, simplifying solar installation.
Moreover, by building solar infrastructure in already developed areas, conservation issues associated with placing clean energy infrastructure in environmentally sensitive regions can be avoided.
Finally, building highway solar farms yields major financial benefits. States gain the opportunity to generate revenue through lease payments while reducing roadside maintenance expenses. Solar developers can assume responsibility for maintaining their sites along highways, which can ultimately lower maintenance costs for the state.
The Growing Popularity of Highway Solar Farms
To maximize the efficiency of current highways, the Federal Highway Administration released guidance in 2021 that promotes the use of state rights-of-way for generating renewable energy.
According to the agency, these projects contribute to the full use of existing highways. They also decrease greenhouse gas emissions, enhance energy security, and facilitate the creation of green jobs.
The Biden Administration views repurposing transportation rights-of-way for energy infrastructure as a transformative solution to help America achieve its climate objectives.
Many states have already implemented solar projects along highway rights-of-way. Other states are seriously considering such projects.
Highway Solar Farms in Maine
In Maine, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has successfully installed solar energy parks at three sites, including the Augusta airport and two locations within Interstate 95 interchanges.
These three photovoltaic farms provide emissions-free electricity to the state capitol complex. The solar farms are projected to save $7.2 million in energy costs over 20 years. At the same time, they’ll reduce carbon dioxide emissions from thermal electricity generation.
Joyce Taylor, the chief engineer for Maine DOT, views this initiative as a beneficial use of excess land. The solar arrays in Maine are anticipated to generate approximately 8.5 megawatts of solar power and reduce the state’s carbon emissions by 2,000 metric tons per year.
Highway Solar Farms in California
California is also embracing the concept of highway solar farms. Environment California is collaborating with The Ray to identify suitable areas on the state’s highways for solar energy production. This approach offers various advantages for both local communities and the state.
The Ray’s analysis unearthed numerous opportunities in Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Diego counties. According to CleanTechnica, these opportunities would generate sufficient clean energy to supply over 250,000 households.
The planning tools provided by The Ray could assist the remaining 55 counties in California in identifying solar energy prospects within their own rights-of-way. This will help California achieve its goal of relying completely on renewable energy.
Installing solar panels near highways may not solve all the NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) issues. However, if we combine these ideas with placing solar panels on carports and commercial building roofs, we could obtain a substantial amount of clean energy quickly, without the need for contentious public meetings.
Highway solar farms are an idea that deserves broader deliberation.
Image Sources: Joe Connors and Canary Media, https://shorturl.at/bEV19