The Harvesting of Solar Energy is agriculture. Geothermal and Wind power is too. In fact, I contend that all forms of energy harvesting is agriculture. Property Taxes are determined in various ways but one way is by how we use a specific piece of property. Some activities are taxed at a lower level than others. Farming, for instance, is one of them. Energy Harvesting is yet to be defined within a specific “use group” but the sooner we do it the better.
Some define a Solar Array as a concoction of manufactured parts and pieces that scientifically converts sunlight into electricity. I don’t like this definition. It makes it sound like Solar Harvesting is no different than an industrial manufacturing facility. Would do ourselves a big favor, while we still can, to insist on defining it as a form of synthetic soil from which we harvest a crop of energy.
This is an important designation and one worth the fight because it will prevent predatory taxation; a sport that seems to be getting some traction in Vermont and one that promises to ultimately discourage people from investing in it. Many towns in Vermont have already applied a perceived increase in appraisal of property because an owner has chosen to invest into renewable energy of one sort or another. They claim that property values increase when people invest in Sustainable Strategies and Renewable Energy. Their logic is defendable from one direction but not necessarily for another. I suppose that the argument is true at face value. Certainly, if the value of a property goes up, then so should the taxes, right? But what about farms? We all agree that we want to save the farms and we know that in order to do so, we have to cut them some slack on the value of their property because they are farming on it. Without sounding too redundant, I would then ask “What happens Renewable Energy is allowed to be in the same “use group” as agriculture?
Some townfolks are quite vocal about insisting on increased taxes, claiming that Solar is only for the benefit of the rich man. As RE providers, we hate these comments. We know that we would like everyone to be able to afford Renewable Energy on their homes. We have to work hard to move our culture away from this mindset and one way to do it is to educate the next generation to view all forms of renewable energy as a type of farming. It begs the question, doesn’t it? We can all have gardens in our backyards without getting taxed on them, can’t we? We don’t get taxed for growing cucumbers, corn or tomatoes do we?
Let’s open our minds a bit and think about it for just a second. I believe that a residential solar array is no different than a garden and we shouldn’t think of it as a manmade industrial structure. Instead of harvesting edible crops that give our bodies energy, we harvest sunlight to give our homes energy. What’s the difference? A crop is a crop. In solar vernacular, the word, “Harvest” is a term that even the Solar Engineers and Scientists have designated to their daily measure of kilowatt production. Solar inverters display the daily “harvest” of kilowatts.
If property owners aren’t taxed extra for having gardens on their property, then why do we tax them for having solar panels? On a large scale solar project, like one that we recently installed on an industrial lot, I would argue even further that the land that is designated for a solar array should be reclassified as “agricultural” and only taxed accordingly. If this was the case, the property should be taxed less than it was before, not more. This is because they have changed the use of it from industrial to farming. Instead of being punished with an increase in property taxes the average Renewable Energy Investor should have their taxes reduced because their land has been changed from an industrial lot to an agricultural lot. Their crop of kilowatts is sent to the market place just like any other crop. While some may say that this is money in the property owner’s pocket, it is still no different than the farmer who receives income for his crops that he exports to market. He pays his income tax like anyone else at the end of the year. His profits may increase because he has a good crop of sunlight but who cares? If his profits increase, then he pays his taxes based on his income, just like the farmer does.
Finally, if we want common folks like myself and all my neighbors to consider investing into renewable energy, then we can’t be threatening them all along the way with predatory increases in taxes to the point where it neutralizes any purpose in doing it to begin with.