Preserving American farmland through solar

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Vice President of Development Jeff Sparrow green lantern solar

Solar power and agriculture have more in common than many realize and can enhance each other in unexpected ways. Today, the two industries have an unprecedented opportunity to work together to alleviate some of our most pressing problems.

Sprout City Farms is a non-profit agricultural organization that manages crop production under solar arrays at Jack’s Solar Garden in Colorado and the first tillage under solar panels.

One of these issues is where developers can place the commercial-scale solar power that they must deploy to mitigate climate change and meet our nation’s clean energy goals. Locally installed commercial-scale solar, including community solar, has the advantage of bringing the benefits of solar energy to the entire community.

Farmers and rural communities stand to benefit greatly from local solar power. To do that, solar developers need to make sure these communities are aware of the benefits. We need to show how solar can address some of the most serious challenges facing farmers and their communities today.

Agriculture has always been a volatile business, and climate change is only exacerbating that reality.With increasingly harsh and unpredictable weather, it’s important to run family farms and keep rural communities thriving. is becoming even more difficult.

Solar can help with that.

Responding to Community Concerns

Commercial-scale solar power isn’t widespread enough for people to get used to these projects and often don’t understand the benefits.

Byron Kominek, owner of Jack’s Solar Garden, rides his family’s tractor through a solar power system. Photo: NREL

Solar projects installed on farms are usually visible from the road, as prime agricultural land tends to be located along major travel routes. As such, her members of the community may oppose the project if they consider it an eyesore. Additionally, you may have a common misconception that solar farms will replace real farms and be unavailable for future farming.

As developers, we have the opportunity to debunk these misconceptions. To that end, it’s important for developers to engage the community in discussion and education. It means calling on the community to raise questions and concerns, and making a real effort to listen, understand, and address those concerns.

By asking farmers directly about their biggest challenges, solar developers can show how effectively solar can address them. In fact, solar power can provide a simple and comprehensive solution to multiple problems facing farmers: crop production, energy operating costs, and revenue streams.

Benefits of solar power in farms and rural areas

Sunshine is like another crop a farmer can harvest that can pay more than hay.

The payments come in the form of land lease payments for solar projects, providing farmers with a guaranteed and consistent revenue stream. This revenue stream has several advantages for farmers. Increase farm income, no additional work or investment required, 100% profit. Lease term rates are set when farmers sign contracts with solar project developers, providing a predictable long-term source of income unlike crops whose future price is unknown. Solar installations can offset farmers’ energy costs.

Credit: AgriSolar Clearinghouse

Adding solar power as a crop might even generate enough extra income to keep the farm running, and keep it for your family.

Surrounding communities can also benefit substantially from the economic stimulus provided by solar installations, including local jobs, increased economic activity, and long-term tax revenue. For community solar installations, residents and local businesses can also save money on their electricity bills.

It is important for developers to emphasize to the farming community that farmers still own the land when solar projects are built on farms. After the project life cycle ends, the farm can resume normal operations.

Their normal operating conditions are further improved. Where solar projects are deployed instead of crops, the land on which they are installed will not be cultivated for at least 20 years. Pausing the constant tillage of the soil releases carbon into the atmosphere and destroys the ground microbes, but regenerates the soil. After the solar arrays are decommissioned, the soil will be much improved, the crops will be more productive, and the land can be returned to its original farmland.

However, installing solar power does not necessarily mean that crop production must stop. More farms are now co-locating solar panels, livestock grazing, and crops in a practice known as agrivolta. Although still in its early stages, Agrivorta will bring significant benefits to the farm and surrounding areas.

Credit: Green Development

Many crops, such as lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes, do better in intermittent shade from solar panels, resulting in higher yields. Studies are being conducted across the United States to determine which crops thrive on solar panels.Shading from panels also reduces farm water use. This advantage is especially welcome in a state like California, which has some of the country’s most agricultural land and is coping with years of drought.

It is becoming more common for solar plants to incorporate native grasses and pollinator-friendly plants into their solar panels. Attracting pollinators can increase yields on farms with solar installations and even neighboring farms, benefiting the larger community. Livestock grazing can also be combined with solar farms. It can help maintain vegetation while providing shade for animals.

When farmers and their communities learn the facts about solar power, they quickly realize its many benefits. Learning about these benefits can help rural communities shift from seeing solar power as a threat to seeing it as a way to protect America’s farmlands. As solar developers, it’s up to us to spread the word that solar is a win-win-win for farms, local communities, and the country at large.

Geoff Sparrow is vice president of development at Green Lantern Solar. Geoff has been developing and running commercial and utility scale solar projects in England since 2005 and has leveraged this deep experience to guide Green Lantern’s successful development, acquisition and construction strategies. Expanding into renewable energy markets in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Prior to joining Green Lantern Solar, he served as Director of Engineering and Senior Leadership at Revision Energy in Portland, Maine where he was a member of the team. Sparrow graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and is a qualified professional his engineer in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

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