Robert Pettersson is the fourth generation farmer on the family’s KRAV-certified farm Wästanå in Motala municipality. The farm consists partly of grain cultivation, partly of a breeding herd of Gotland sheep and broiler chickens. On the farm – which has been in the family’s possession for over 100 years – there is also a food-approved butchery.
The farm has signed a land lease agreement with Ilmatar Solar who wants to build a solar park that will provide green electricity to 32,000 households. Plans are to build the park on part of the property which is now forest, some of which was previously used as pasture. Once the forest is felled and the solar park built, Robert wants the farm’s sheep to be able to graze in the park amid the solar panels to keep the brush and grass under control. This way, the vegetation will not grow to overshadow the panels, and the pasture will also be restored.
– In the old days, a large part of southern Sweden was pasture land, but until recently, forestry was the only real option on this type of land. If there is an opportunity to free up such land for animal grazing, it will have extremely positive effects on biodiversity, Robert says.
Speaking rather openly, Robert feels that solar panels are a better alternative to land use than forestry, the yield being better. He is particularly excited, however, that the benefits of the land to both society and the environment are much greater when it is used for energy production.
– If the idea of grazing sheep in a solar park is feasible, the land will not only produce green energy, but it will increase biodiversity and produce food in a climate-smart way. In my opinion, this is true land use optimization, not least in view of the immense need for domestically produced energy.
The heated discussions over the past year on high electricity prices and the looming energy crisis have had an impact on Robert and many others.
– The cold truth is that high electricity prices make the profitability estimates of investing in solar cells more plausible, meaning solar parks really are a good solution. I think it’s quite obvious that we need more self-generated electricity in Sweden, which is why I think this is a good investment.
Robert has thought a lot about what the planned park can do in terms of better biodiversity, job opportunities, yields of the farm, etc. When asked if he thinks the solar park will be attractive, he replies:
– I don’t know if a solar park can be attractive or not but understand that we are replacing a few hundred hectares of forest with renewable energy production and a much more diverse flora and fauna. Of course not all the small plants, insects, animals growing and grazing among the solar panels may look as beautiful as the spruce trees that are there now.
What advice would you give to farmers who are in the same situation as you and your family, that is, who have land suitable for solar parks?
– I think we need to think more broadly, not just about ourselves and our property’s needs and conditions for use. To be perfectly honest, building a solar park is an early embarkment down a road of an unknown destination. But as I said, I believe in this, and if you want to improve your situation, you have to have the courage to try it.
How do you think the collaboration with Ilmatar Solar has progressed?
– So far, the collaboration has worked really well, and negotiations have been open and straightforward. Contacting the people at Ilmatar Solar has been easy, and their work is very transparent.