Unlike Maine, Western Colorado enjoys more than 300 sunny days a year. For this reason, according to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, “solar farms have begun cropping up in northwest Colorado, converting sagebrush into a shining sea of photovoltaic power panels surrounded by 8-foot fences — a total loss for elk, deer, sage grouse and pronghorns on the most prolific winter range in the Rocky Mountain West.”

V. Paul Reynolds, Outdoors Columnist

In short, renewable energy, whether wind turbines or solar farms, is not without a significant downside. Wildlife managers in Colorado see all of these renewable energy initiatives as an urgent threat to wildlife because of the corresponding loss of wildlife habitat.

Maine is on a similar track. So far there are a reported 3,185 solar panel farms in our state, with a lot more on the way. According to a recent report from Maine Public Radio, Penobscot County alone is expecting a “raft of requests” for new solar installations.

For planned solar installations larger than three acres, DEP approval is required. Applicants must commit to a plan for funding the decommissioning of expended solar panels. Hanging over these solar farms like a dark cloud is the question: “What will we do with these photovoltaic albatrosses when the panels are spent 20-25 years down the road?”

A new law, spearheaded by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, is still being fine-tuned but is supposed to require new solar developers to either provide “compensatory land” equal to the size of the developed solar field or contribute money to a state compensation fund for habitat preservation.

Will taxpayers have to underwrite the cost of special solar panel landfills, or will the spent solar farms be simply abandoned only to linger and rust away like so many junk cars along the roadside?


Concerned with this question, the municipalities of Ellsworth and Dixmont have imposed at least a temporary ban on these solar farms. No doubt, as the landscapes become increasingly populated with solar panels and cyclone fences, more Maine towns will declare a solar farm hiatus until there are more satisfactory answers to the disposal question.

Putting aside the issues of visual pollution and decommissioning of the spent solar panels, there is another ancillary solar farm issue that does not seem to be getting much attention at the municipal and state level, except from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation: wildlife habitat loss and degradation.

I have heard many a Mainer grumble under their breath about the unsightly presence of either wind turbines or these solar farms along the highways and byways of our once-scenic state, all the while acknowledging, albeit begrudgingly, the need for clean renewable energy.

It appears to me that these solar installations are not only getting more plentiful but more expansive as well. Once an 8-foot cyclone fence is erected on three acres or 30 acres, it is no longer accessible to wildlife for nesting or forage.

The rush to solar farms and renewable energy poses a paradox as we destroy habitat and wildlife in our earnest effort to manage our carbon footprint. This debate is not over.


V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, an author, a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. Contact him at vpaulr@tds.net.

Related Headlines

Join the Conversation

Please sign into your Sun Journal account to participate in conversations below. If you do not have an account, you can register or subscribe. Questions? Please see our FAQs.