Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Green Power Series: Solar Farms in the Northeast

Part IV: Leadership and Creative Thinking Reshape the Solar Farm Landscape

Gardens under solar panels in Boulder, CO produced more than 8,000# of produce, while the panels above generate enough power for 300 local homes. (Kirk Siegler/NPR)

Toby Martin

Ed Note: Green Energy Times has published three articles in its Green Power Series that focused on a number of solar farm companies located in Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. Drawing from those articles, this article underscores a set of emerging environmental practices that are becoming increasingly important in the solar farm industry, and characterize the leadership qualities among its developers.

In 1970, the U.S. established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and 25 years later, in 1995, the EPA created the Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program to clean up and return targeted toxic land areas to safe and productive reuse. Unfortunately, the EPA estimates more than 450,000 U.S. brownfields still remain. Solar farm developers have joined forces to collaborate and meet that challenging problem with efforts to take strong, environmentally positive action to reclaim brownfield sites.

In G.E.T.’s February 2022 issue, it was reported that Manchester, New Hampshire reclaimed its 12-acre municipal landfill and installed an 8,000-panel solar array. The project led to a newsworthy visit by U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm last September, when she commended them and the city’s leaders for their collaborative environmental project work.

G.E.T. also reported how we were struck by the environmental consciousness of Cipriani Energy Group in its New York solar farms, because they have adopted plans to transition from mechanical mowing practices and replace them with grazing animals like sheep and alpacas. Cipriani will interplant their ground-mounted solar farm arrays with native flowering plants that will attract pollinators.

In Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, ReVision Energy’s goals and efforts demonstrate their respect for ecologically positive land use. They locate their solar farms on land that does not conflict with environmentally important uses like farming or forestry, such as their Long Pond project on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, where they restored and sited the solar farm on a previously decommissioned and unserviceable landfill.

ReVision’s co-founder, Phil Coupe, recently wrote an inspiring piece published in the company’s newsletter, which captures the essence of the ecological spirit and philosophy of what is possible for best practices in solar farm site design and management.

Gardens under solar panels in Boulder, CO produced more than 8,000# of produce, while the panels above generate enough power for 300 local homes. (Kirk Siegler/NPR)

Coupe’s essay reflects that ethic, and demonstrates what is possible with thinking that exemplifies creative, innovative, and imaginative corporate leadership. It focuses on agrivoltaics, which makes it possible to integrate solar generation with agriculture, and which solar farm leaders in the Northeast have been adopting.

Coupe’s piece echoed the need for environmentalism in the solar industry. It underscores the exemplary work of Colorado farmer Byron Kominek, who created Jack’s Solar Garden, installed by fellow B Corp and (Colorado) Amicus member Namaste Solar, to “increase food and renewable energy production and to see if the ‘dual use’ approach of agrivoltaics can help improve food and energy security,” according to Coupe.

Coupe added, “Based on early results from Jack’s Solar Garden, and from ongoing research worldwide, agrivoltaics (dual use farming) has immense potential to alleviate some of our worst problems. According to the 2021 report “Dual Use, Dual Value Solar Agrivoltaics Power Farm Economics,” by Dr. Maggie Teliska and Michael P. Totten, just 1% of existing cultivated agricultural lands installing agrivoltaic microgrids could meet worldwide energy demand.”

He continued by citing “Agrivoltaics: Producing Solar Energy While Protecting Farmland” by Bill Pederson and Brooks Lamb, which shows how “the dual use approach can dramatically increase land productivity.” The proof? Kominek produced 8,600 pounds of produce by planting seeds between the rows of his farm’s solar panels in 2021.

Coupe concluded,” Food production and energy generation have long been viewed as incompatible on the same patch of earth, if not mutually exclusive. The successful proof of concept that is Jack’s Solar Garden, along with solar grazing initiatives, has debunked the notion that clean, zero-emission solar energy production conflicts with farming. While crops can grow robustly between rows of solar panels, it turns out that livestock are the ideal ‘lawnmowers’ for ground-mounted solar arrays, because they keep vegetation from growing tall enough to shade the panels.”

All of these positive initiatives taken by solar farm management teams in the Northeast and farmers like Kominek in Colorado show that solar farms are increasingly aware of, sensitive to, and acting on environmental issues. And they can and do contribute to diversifying food production yields, environmentalism, and to promoting and protecting positive land use, biodiversity, clean air, clean water, and regional native species.

Toby Martin lives in Islesboro, ME, where he works locally and statewide to strengthen Maine’s clean energy sustainability. A founding member of the Islesboro Energy Team and the Islesboro Energy Committee, he also coordinates the Islesboro Energy Conference, and contributes to Green Energy Times as a writer and founding member of its Maine distribution team.

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