Solar panels going up in the grassy areas around exits to I-95 in Augusta earlier this month caught some residents by surprise. It won’t be the last time.

Large solar arrays already have popped up across the state, catching the eyes of motorists and others as they go past the rows of shimmering, glass-and-steel panels. Many more will be needed, in Maine and throughout the country, to reduce carbon emissions and avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Solar arrays, and their clean-energy counterpart, wind farms, may not fit everybody’s idea of a scenic view. But they are necessary, and far better than the alternative.

And, frankly, placing them alongside interstate ramps is a no-brainer. It’s hard to think of those areas being used in a more useful or less invasive manner. They are not in anyone’s way, they’re not distracting, and they’ll produce enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.

In the end, they’ll save the state millions of dollars over the next 20 years while significantly reducing harmful emissions and pollution. We should get that kind of production out of every one of our highway exits that fits the bill for solar power.

But we’ll need to use a lot more land than that if we’re going to use wind and solar to the degree necessary to run an economy on clean power. While a coal-fired power plant producing electricity for a region can fit on a city block, an equally productive solar array may require 10 square miles. Wind power, too, needs a lot of space.


Solar power now generates less than 3% of electricity. It could reach 45% by 2050, which would require millions more acres be committed to solar arrays — approximately the size of two Massachusetts by one estimate. Tens of millions more acres will be needed for wind farms, too.

And it can’t be just anywhere. They have to be where the sun shines and wind blows, which cuts down on the available land, making it crucial that well-sited projects get built.

Already, that’s been a problem. Proposals for solar projects have been met with opposition, mostly with questions over land use — opponents don’t necessarily object to solar power, they just don’t want it on that particular piece of land.

This opposition helped kill as much as 10% of the solar power capacity proposed for 2021, according to a Reuters report. That doesn’t include any project that was scuttled by opposition before it was even proposed.

Emerging technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen have the potential to reduce emissions without using a lot of land. Small-scale nuclear too.

But any economy run on clean power will need massive contributions from wind and solar, not only to replace the electricity we use now but to add the capacity we need to run a completely electrified country.


For that to happen, people will have to accept the sight of solar arrays and wind farms.

Of course, not all of it takes up land. Rooftop solar is booming, and offshore wind holds enormous potential.

Researchers are also working on strategies for placing solar arrays on working farmland. The land in between the panels works well for grazing, and may be suitable for some crops, including blueberries, which is the subject of a University of Maine study.

But in merging agriculture and clean energy, officials have to be careful not to lose arable land, a lot of which has been lost as the suburbs spread outward, to another kind of development.

The good news is that clean energy can slow the climate crisis and reduce air pollution, and it can do so at increasingly competitive prices — thank the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act for that.

But all that power generation has to go somewhere. People should get used to seeing it.

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