As we recently celebrated Independence Day, I was again reminded why I love this country. Too often, society focuses on the tension between factions. Urban vs. rural; liberal vs. conservative, and the natural differences of race and creed. But each July 4, as families across Wisconsin and this nation come together to celebrate the founding of our country, we pause and pay respect to the men and women who, nearly 250 years ago, put their petty, parochial differences aside and united to declare their independence from a tyrannical, unrepresentative government.
While they produce Broadway musicals and movies about some of the Founding Fathers who were famous lawyers and politicians, the fact of the matter is the United States of America would not exist if it were not for farmers. Not only did the colonial farms feed the troops during the long, lean years of the American Revolution, the ranks of militia and minutemen were filled with farm owners and agricultural laborers who spent time away from one field to join the fields of battle.
Together, they fought off a better trained, more experienced military foe and soon formed these United States of America.
I am a family man, a business owner, a farmer and consider myself patriotic in my own right. As a conservative, I support and engage in the free market. Nearly a quarter of a millennium after the founding of America, community solar is a profamily farmer, pro-consumer, pro-small business, pro-free-market approach that is pro-property rights and pro-taxpayer.
A bill sponsored by Ozaukee County’s Sen. Duey Strobel and Reps. Robert Brooks and Scot Krug of Wood County would decentralize the current imperial solar energy programs that pick winners and losers and instead would democratize energy collection and distribution so that all have the freedom to capture, distribute and purchase solar energy if they so choose.
This concept of utilizing community solar on our land intrigued us on two fronts. First and foremost, it allowed us to increase our profit on some of our poorest and lowest-yielding farmland. I believe that small-business- driven profit motive has been the leading force in building and stabilizing the American economy over the generations since the Revolution.
Secondarily, the solar project allows us as a family farm to increase our environmental stewardship. The parcel we would use for our solar project includes land that is classified as highly erodible, creating a risk for runoff with tillage. The project keeps the land in production without the negative environmental impact. The project will also make us nearly electric- neutral on the farm. This helps us secure the land for many more generations.
Community solar is an alternative to mammoth projects run by the regional monopoly utilities. We’ve been approached by developers to build a huge project that would include productive agricultural land, but we’d much prefer this conservative approach.
The promise of solar should not be limited to landowners, large developments, and the handful of utilities in Wisconsin. It should be accessible to we, the people. The Strobel/Krug/Brooks community solar bill provides just that. Senate Bill 226 allows for true community solar to flourish in Wisconsin. It’s a proposal in the spirit of our nation’s Founding Fathers and one I hope passes soon so that America can continue her march toward energy independence.
Cody Heller is partner and CEO of CWAS Global in Alma Center and president and CEO of Heller Farm Inc.