Solar energy: a new cash crop for farmers — and sheep can safely graze

By Xander Peters, The Christian Science Monitor, October 4, 2021

“Gregory Sigue had always planned to return to south Louisiana [to] maintain his family’s land. Why not develop a utility-scale solar project on the family’s cropland?

“He is now pursuing his dream, in parallel with a rising number of U.S. farmers who are open to growing solar energy alongside crops. … But so far, the energy companies he has talked to aren’t offering as much money as he can get leasing land to other local farmers.

“ ‘In some regions, [solar is a] huge excitement … because it gives [landowners] a guaranteed source of revenue’ that often beats their traditional income per acre, says Jordan Macknick, the lead energy, water, and land analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“Spurring it on are local policies and rising demand from energy companies that need places to build. Massachusetts, Michigan, Colorado, California, Maine, Illinois, and Virginia have amended zoning laws for cropland solar projects, [along with] tax rebates in some cases.

“ ‘Farmland [is] almost a perfect location … to develop utility-scale, ground-mounted solar projects,’ Dr. Macknick says. ‘Farms are flat, have access roads, and access to electric transmission lines.’

“What Mr. Sigue is attempting to develop is solar panels mounted to the ground, and only gravel or grass in between. Other landowners are into agrivoltaics, which involves agriculture, including built-in pollinator habitats, sheep grazing, and planting crops underneath solar panels. 

“A recent study by researchers at Oregon State University found that if America’s farmers could share just 1 percent of their farmland for clean power — about 13,000 square miles — it could produce as much as 20 percent of the country’s electricity renewably.”

Read the full article here. (~6 min) 

[Ed. Note: In September, APA released a guidebook for local governments that want to understand the trade-offs and maximize the benefits of large-scale solar developments, such as those described in this roundup. Access the guidebook for free here.]

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