Protocol for Land Evaluation Studies to Assess Feed-in Tariff (FIT) Program Eligibility for Non-Rooftop Solar Facilities on Properties with a Mix of Prime Agricultural Land (Classes 1 to 3) and/or Organic Soil, and Non-Prime Agricultural Land (Classes 4 to 7)
The Canada Land Inventory (CLI) “Soil Capability for Agriculture” classifies land in terms of its capability to produce common field crops (e.g., corn, soybeans, small grains, forages). CLI maps for Ontario were derived from a long history of soil survey work and associated reports and maps (circa 1929-2000). Most of southern Ontario was mapped at a scale of 1:50,000. However, in some regions, the best available soil classification maps were produced at a scale of 1:63,360 or even 1:126,720. CLI maps for Ontario are intended for broad land-use planning purposes. Depending on the complexity of the agricultural landscape, more detailed mapping may be required.
“Prime agricultural land” includes CLI Classes 1, 2 and 3 land which may have minor limitations for field crops:
- Class 1 – Land in this class has no significant limitations in use for crops.
- Class 2 – Land in this class has moderate limitations that reduce the choice of crops, or require moderate conservation practices.
- Class 3 – Land in this class has moderately severe limitations that reduce the choice of crops or requires special conservation practices.
“Non-prime agricultural land” includes CLI Classes 4 through 7. This land has more severe limitations:
- Class 4 –Land in this class has severe limitations that restrict the choice of crops, or requires special conservation practices and very careful management, or both
- Class 5 – Land in this class has very severe limitations that restrict its capability to produce perennial forage crops, but improvement practices are feasible
- Class 6 – Land in this class is unsuited for cultivation, but may be suitable for use as unimproved permanent pasture
- Class 7 – Land in this class is unsuitable for any arable culture or permanent pasture
More information on CLI classification can be obtained from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) and Ministry of Rural Affairs (MRA) website.
For the purposes of the FIT program, the potential eligibility of a non-rooftop solar project is partly determined by the CLI mapping maintained by OMAF and MRA for the purposes of the FIT program. The maps are customized to the FIT eligibility criteria and are posted on OMAF and MRA’s website.
A proponent submitting a FIT application involving a property with a mix of prime agricultural land (CLI Classes 1, 2 or 3) and/or organic soil, and non-prime agricultural land (CLI Classes 4 through 7), must provide a land evaluation study based on the standardized methodology outlined below. This study is needed to confirm that the proposed non-rooftop solar project site is located only on the non-prime agricultural portion of the property.
While the entire property must be shown in the land evaluation study, areas identified by CLI as Classes 1 to 3 land or organic soil cannot be reclassified and must be avoided. Therefore, on a property with a mix of prime and non-prime agricultural lands only the non-prime agricultural land (CLI Classes 4 to7) portions must be studied. Land mapped by CLI as Classes 4 to 7 but found to actually be Classes 1 to 3 and/or organic through the land evaluation study must also be avoided.
Land evaluation studies completed by proponents are used solely for the purpose of demonstrating to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) that prime agricultural lands have been avoided. There is no mechanism in place to permit municipalities or proponents to change the province’s CLI mapping as a result of the studies.
For more information on the FIT program rules and application requirements, refer to the OPA’s website.
FIT Land Evaluation Study Protocol:
Subject Property Background Information:
It is recommended that all land evaluators identify the original county soil survey report and map from which the CLI map product was developed. This will identify the scale at which the original soil map product was compiled. Soil units delineated on the subject property should be correlated with the soil units as they have been classified and presented in the digital soil database (Soil Complex data layer from Land Information Ontario). These may differ from the legacy published soil survey map and report for a particular county or municipality due to periodic revisions by the province and/or Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Those legacy reports and maps can be found on the Canadian Soil Information Service (CANSIS) website.
There are two options for obtaining the existing soil complex/CLI maps for the subject property for the purposes of land evaluation studies:
Option 1 – GIS Software: Obtain the most recent soil complex /CLI data layer and assessment parcel layer from the Land Information Ontario (LIO) website. Overlay the CLI mapping with the assessment parcel fabric and identify the non-prime agricultural portion of the property, if any. The county, township, lot and concession information should also be identified in the title of the map. The date the CLI maps were obtained from the LIO website should be clearly noted.
Option 2 – OMAF and MRA AgMaps: Use the interactive mapping website. Find the location of the mixed soil property using mouse controlled zoom functions or the “Find Information” tab. Then, turn on the parcel layer, and the soil complex/CLI data layer. Create a map layout and an appropriate map title using the button. The date the CLI maps were obtained from AgMaps should be clearly noted. Then,when prompted download the map. The map should open for printing and you can also save a copy of the PDF to your computer as well.
Using option 1 or 2: Identify the non-prime agricultural land, if any, within the property boundary. Identify the soil components within the map units. Identify the associated CLI ratings and any limitations if they exist for the subject property.
Note: The CLI maps available from LIO, AgMaps and the customized CLI maps created for the FIT program all use the identical CLI data layer. Every effort has been made to avoid any discrepancies.
Property Inspection Methodology:
The FIT property-specific CLI land evaluation will be based on an adequate density and distribution of soil profile and landscape site inspections. The minimum requirement is one ground inspection per two square centimetres on the final map (Expert Committee on Soil Survey 1981). For example, at a scale of 1:10,000, this translates, at a minimum, to one site inspection per two hectares of the study area. In some cases, such as sites with a high degree of soil/landscape variability, a land evaluation at a scale of 1:5,000 would be more appropriate. Ultimately, the proponent undertaking the land evaluation study and the third party reviewer must determine the scale required to accurately assess the site’s land capability.
Inspection site locations (by GPS coordinate) will be presented in map form, and the soil profile data for each inspection site will be included in a database that accompanies the project report. The “Field Manual for Describing Soils in Ontario” (Ontario Centre for Soil Resource Evaluation, 1993) provides field assessment guidelines for classifying soils and the landscapes in which they occur. The taxonomic conventions found in the “Canadian System of Soil Classification” (Expert Committee on Soil Survey, 1981) are to be used to report on all site-specific findings under the FIT program.
The agricultural capability for common field crops (e.g. corn, soybeans, small grains and forages) will be interpreted using the document “Classifying Prime and Marginal Agricultural Soils and Landscapes: Guidelines for the Application of the Canada Land Inventory in Ontario” which has been informed by the Expert Committee in Soil Survey (1983) field manual.
Land Evaluation Analysis and Reporting:
All FIT land evaluation studies will be determined upon the assumption that the existing CLI map units are correct. Detailed evidence must be systematically collected and provided to test this assumption. On a property with a mix of prime and non-prime agricultural lands only the non-prime agricultural land (CLI Classes 4 to7) portions must be studied. Any areas found to have a different CLI rating than mapped by OMAF and MRA will be clearly identified by the proponent undertaking the land evaluation study and assigned a new classification according to the CLI assessment guidelines. Land mapped by CLI as Classes 4 to 7 but found to actually be Classes 1 to 3 and/or organic through the land evaluation study must be avoided.
The information developed from this detailed investigation will be compiled systematically into a report that accompanies a digital version of study area map and its associated CLI polygons. For clarity, this process can only be utilized to reclassify CLI Classes 4 to 7 land to CLI Class 1 to 3 or CLI organic land. CLI Classes 1 to 3 and organic land as shown on the CLI maps cannot be reclassified as CLI Class 4 to 7.
Minimum Qualifications for Land Evaluators (Soil Scientists/Pedologists) Undertaking Land Evaluation Studies:
Land evaluation studies under the FIT program are undertaken entirely at the risk of the non-rooftop solar project proponent. Land evaluators are expected to have a very firm understanding of soil science and related discipline principles founded in a sound academic base, relevant experience, ongoing professional development and experience in providing objective, professional judgement.
More specifically, the land evaluators undertaking land evaluation studies must demonstrate a combination of education and experience normally acquired through:
- a university degree in soil science, geoscience, forestry, biology, resource management-related disciplines or engineering (terrain related); and
- a minimum of five years of demonstrable consulting/professional practice in land evaluation/soil related projects.
The land evaluators shall submit, with the land evaluation study, their résumé or curriculum vitae (CV) and a detailed list of recent (last five years) land evaluation/soil projects in which they have been the lead or played a significant role.
Third Party Review:
Each land evaluation study will be subject to a third party review for the purposes of the FIT program. The third party reviewer will be required to complete a prescribed form that indicates that he/she has reviewed the study and the qualifications of the report author, and based on his/her professional experience, is in agreement with the methods and findings of the land evaluation study. Further, the third party reviewer must confirm that they have no conflict of interest by attesting to their own objectivity and confirm that they have no direct or indirect professional, financial or personal affiliation with the land evaluator(s) who authored the study. The peer review prescribed form can be found at:
Third party reviewers must have a very firm understanding of soil science and related discipline principles founded in a sound academic base, relevant experience, ongoing professional development and the application of professional judgement.
Third party reviewers must demonstrate a combination of education and experience normally acquired through:
- a university degree in soil science/pedology, geosciences or terrain-related engineering, and
- a minimum of eight years of demonstrable consulting/professional practice in land evaluation/soil related projects
Without limitation by the generality of the following, in reviewing land evaluation studies, third party reviewers will follow a two stage process:
- review the land evaluator’s credentials as provided in their résumé or CV to determine suitability of qualifications to undertake work
- review any relevant land evaluation/soil project experience or project references provided by the land evaluator
- review the submitted land evaluation report and any digital files submitted and provide comments as required
- provide an attestation in the form of a Prescribed Form generated by the OPS indicating:
- that the land evaluation and its results are consistent with accepted survey methodologies, industry standards and best practices
For more information on the protocol, proponents should contact the Renewable Energy Facilitation Office (REFO) at the Ministry of Energy. REFO can be reached by email at REFO@ontario.ca or by phone at 1-877-440-REFO (7336).
Expert Committee on Soil Survey. 1981. A Soil Mapping System for Canada: Revised. Research Branch, Agriculture Canada.
Expert Committee on Soil Survey. 1983. The Canada Soil Information System (CANSIS) Manual for Describing Soils in the Field, J. H. Day Ed. Land Resource Research Institute, Agriculture Canada, Ottawa.
Ontario Centre for Soil Resource Evaluation. 1993. Field Manual for Describing Soils in Ontario. 4th edition.Compiled by K. A. Denholm and L. W. Schut.