Making Conservation Energy Efficient

Farmland in America, particularly in the Northeast, has been disappearing for decades, ceding to suburban and industrial development, track homes, malls and McMansions. States and nonprofits have pushed back against these pressures by using tools like conservation easements, which separate development rights from the land. Some states, like New Jersey, have spent more than $1 billion on buying up development rights. This strategy doesn't necessarily keep land affordable or in active use as farmland, but it has kept a place like New Jersey from succumbing completely to sprawly houses and corporate campuses.

Now New Jersey is facing a dilemma: Should it allow wind turbines on farms in its conservation program? Unlike suburban housing or parking lots or malls, wind turbines could can be built on a farm without disrupting its work: the base of the turbines take up an acre of land, which on mid-sized farms leaves plenty of room to grow vegetables or graze livestock. They would also provide a revenue stream -- $10,000 to $15,000 each year -- to farmers short on income.

Opponents of this idea say that it will damage the good reputation the conservation program has built over the years, which is a legitimate gripe. But as long as vegetable farms don't transform completely into wind farms -- as long as most of the preserved land is still kept as farmland -- the benefit of building more wind power in an area with good conditions for it seems greater. The intent of the conservation program (to keep out people who want to build buildings, streets and parking lots on farmlands) remains intact.