(Interview) “Agrivoltaism should make it possible to increase the agricultural income of farmers”

While agrivoltaism is experiencing increasing criticism in France and last month the decree setting the first milestones appeared, pv magazine France spoke with Antoine Nogier, president of Sun’Agri, to discuss the question of the acceptability of this practice, which must guarantee a stable land price and a fair distribution of value among farmers , energy producer, but also the entire territory.

Let’s first go back to the publication of the decree on agrovoltaism last April. Most of stakeholders in the solar sector have responded positively. Are you satisfied too?

Antoine Nogier, President of Sun’Agri.

Image: Sun’Agri

Antoine Nogier, President of Sun’Agri : The wording of the decree is not perfect, but the text reaffirms the priority of agriculture. It also provides good milestones such as maintaining at least 90% of agricultural yields. Finally, it has been announced that the Controls and Sanctions Ordinance will be released very soon, which is good.

Of course, like other players in this sector, we have identified certain points that need to be clarified, such as light sharing. The text states the outcome target (40% coverage rate), but still describes the preventive means to guarantee this target quite poorly. Our next question concerns the prioritization of breeding, which is not covered by the obligation of 90% of maintained yields. In fact, some elements still deserve clarification.

For its part, the Peasants’ Confederation announced its intention to file an appeal against the decree because, according to her, agrovoltaism leads to excessively high land prices, which block the transmission to the next generations. As a company that has made dynamic farming its specialty, do you understand these criticisms?

Not only do we understand them, but we have continued to raise awareness of this issue, which is a real problem, knowing that France has lost 100,000 farmers in ten years. Some developers claim to offer rents of 5,000 to 6,000 euros per hectare, or even more. However, these figures give an implicit land value of around €80,000 to €100,000 per hectare. This is a 10- to 20-fold increase in the price of land, and we can clearly see the inflation this is causing. In order for the younger generations to agree to take over the farm, it is necessary to guarantee that the value of the land remains available and that the land is attractive from an agricultural point of view.

What are the alternatives to determining the rent?

Experience already shows that with high rents there is a high chance that the project will not respect the criteria of the law and decree: the closer the panels are to the ground and the tighter they are, the more they generate higher rents, but the more they degrade agricultural yields. Therefore, the first goal of agrovoltaism must remain the intelligent sharing of light.

There are also ways of not paying rent, which consist, for example, in converting this amount into a participation in the capital of the project company (SPV) or in the modernization of operating tools (agricultural machinery, irrigation system…). In this case, land speculation is avoided and the farmer can keep his shares in the SPV as retirement capital without preventing the arrival of a successor.

We are seeing increasing resistance to agro-PV projects. Recently, the Normandy region, chaired by Hervé Morin, also filed a request to cancel the decree on agrovoltaism. How can solar industry stakeholders improve the acceptability of this practice?

Without sacrificing profitability for energy producers, I think it is essential to focus the design of agrovoltaic projects on the impact of the whole territory, whether it is the trickling down of value to several farmers, not just one, but also the preservation of soil and biodiversity.

This is why at Sun’Agri we have decided to focus on small agrovoltaic installations of a few megawatts and on permanent crops with high added value strongly affected by climate change, such as horticulture and market gardening. We are also betting on plantations that are essential to the territory and that will have no replacement after climate change, as in the case of winegrowing in the Mediterranean region, for example in the eastern Pyrenees, where desertification has already begun. It is necessary to conduct a dialogue with farmers, agricultural chambers, but also with local authorities to highlight the interest in installing agrovoltaic panels in these cases. This will improve the acceptance of projects.

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