The Montgomery Sheep Farm in North Carolina might be taking mixed use to another level. Not only is it a working sheep farm, it also offers a bed and breakfast for two-legged guests, breeds dogs, and is now using solar to power the entire operation. A WFAE reporter recently visited the farm and reports the farm’s 20-megawatt solar array has not only provided it with additional income related to clean energy, but keeps workers employed and has reduced costs.

One important solar benefit  is a reduction in maintenance costs. The grass under the solar panels no longer needs to be cut, thanks to the sheep who graze under the solar panels on a rotating schedule. This not only reduces costs, but also allows the farm to raise more lambs per acre.

We can have many more lambs per acre than if you put them on a normal pasture because of the solar panels,”  Joel Olsen told WFAE, owner of the Montgomery Sheep Farm.

Olsen says another big benefit is the  shade provided by the solar panels. The shade not only provides cool areas for the sheep during hot summer days, but it helps the grass grow thicker which means more food for  the sheep. This thick grass is much more suitable for the sheep than grass typically grown in an open field, according to Olsen.

The farm currently operates on 200 acres, raising sheep, chickens, and horses. Roughly 400 sheep are rotated on a weekly basis under the solar panels in 30 designated grazing areas.

If you can provide farmers additional income related to clean energy, additional income related to grounds maintenance, you know, it allows our rural areas to remain beautiful and have the people living there to remain employed,” Olsen said.

To learn more about the Montgomery Sheep Farm in North Carolina, listen to WFAE’s story,  here.

AgriSolar Clearinghouse partner Greg Barron-Gafford, a professor at the University of Arizona, is looking to indigenous knowledge to find solutions to modern agricultural challenges through agrivoltaics. Barron-Gafford is part of a research team that is using an agrisolar approach to find solutions for agricultural challenges like water shortages and direct sunlight on crops in the desert.

Intense, direct sunlight in the desert and water shortages are both issues addressed by the researchers at the Biosphere 2 lab and the Tumamoc Resilience Gardens, in Arizona. Traditional techniques used by the American Indian tribes in the area for more than 5,000 years may offer solutions, and the measures are being tested in these facilities.

Instead of relying on tree shade, we’re underneath an energy producer that’s not competing for water,” Barron-Gafford recently told the Washington Post.

Vegetation on site at the Biosphere 2 location will plant crops under solar panels as well as the traditional rock berms and rock piles used by area tribes.

We’ve had 5,000 years of farmers trying out different strategies for dealing with heat, drought and water scarcity,” Gary Nabhan, an ethnobotanist and agrarian activist working at the Biosphere 2 location in Arizona, explained to the Washington Post.

Pairing solar with appropriate agricultural land may address the issues faced by desert farmers by shading crops from the intense Arizona sunlight, which can provide a cool area for plants to flourish under solar panels. Solar panels, unlike shade trees, don’t need water which means crops don’t have to compete for the scarce resource.

Not relying on irrigation canals to nourish thirsty crops such as leafy greens, nuts, and fruits means there is less of an impact on the immense amount of water that has typically been drawn from aquifers and, in Arizona’s case, the Colorado River.

Not only does an agrivoltaic approach to these challenges mean less impact on water supply, but it allows communities to build energy resilience.

Read more about the Biosphere 2 operation here, and the Tumamoc Resilience Gardens here.


Local farmers in Columbus, Indiana, have partnered with Hoosier Energy to create clean energy by installing solar panels over grazing land on a local sheep farm. Of Hoosier Energy’s 10 solar arrays, this is the first farm to have an array of solar panels on local farmland. 

“We’re able to continue to use it as an agricultural value by partnering with a farmer on using sheep to graze the site, so it’s really good because we get … more benefit than just solar. It’s actually an agricultural benefit to the community as well,” said John Cisney, a technical analyst at Hoosier Energy.  

The farm and solar partnership is a win-win situation. Sheep continue to graze the land but with the solar panels in place, there is an added benefit of producing clean energy, which benefits the environment. “It’s cleaner. There are no CO2 emissions. It’s sustainable. It’s renewable,” said Curt Durnil, communications director at Hoosier Energy. 

These panels are capable of harnessing energy from the sun throughout the day, as they follow the sun from east to west, unlike a typical solar panel on a residential home that operates in a fixed position. 

[W]hat that allows us to do is capture more energy from the sun, up to 15-20% more in a year’s time period than if they were just fixed facing the sun throughout the day,” Cisney said. 

To learn more about the Agrisolar farm in Indiana, click here.  

Blueberries are big business in Maine, contributing upwards of $250 million to the state economy each year. That’s why a new partnership among blueberry growers, researchers, and the solar industry to harness the power of sun caught our attention.

The potential for this project to pave the way in providing farmers with alternative income streams while still producing the iconic Maine wild blueberry is exciting, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it,” said Dr. Lily Calderwood, University of Maine Extension Wild Blueberry Specialist.

Currently, 38 U.S. blueberry farms contribute more than $4.7 billion to the economy annually. In Maine, blueberries contribute to $250 million to the economy.

We’re pleased to be working alongside the University of Maine as well as industry leaders like Navisun and BlueWave Solar on this innovative project that will help promote the growth of the agrivoltaics market as well as support local farmers,” said Chris Ichter, director of business development at CS Energy.

Research indicates that the co-location of solar arrays with crops may reduce water usage by 30% and increase crop production by 70%. With an already large contribution to Maine’s economy, blueberry farmers, as well as others, may benefit greatly from combining crops and solar.

The pilot program outlined what are known as “dual-use challenges.” This study will attempt to understand some of those concerns by using half of the 10-acre project as a control group to study “optimal solar construction techniques.”

CS Energy, Navisun and BlueWave Solar have all been incredibly engaged and cooperative throughout the whole process, which is crucial, as this is not only the first project of its kind for the University of Maine, but also for the entire state,” said Dr. Lily Calderwood, University of Maine Extension Wild Blueberry Specialist.

The research findings of this program will not only help future developers plan and execute effective dual-use systems, but ultimately will help support local farmers through advancing clean energy and discovering new income streams.

The Maces Pond Agrivoltaics Pilot Project in Rockport, Maine is the result of a collaboration between Bluewave Solar, Navisun LLC, and CS Energy, and the University of Maine. Read more about this partnership, here.

NPR recently visited Jack’s Solar Garden, a Colorado farm among about a dozen in the U.S. investing in the colocation of solar energy and farmland.

When Byron Kominek returned home after the Peace Corps and later working as a diplomat in Africa, his family’s 24-acre farm near Boulder, Colo., was struggling to turn a profit.

“Our farm has mainly been hay producing for fifty years,” Kominek said, on a recent chilly morning, the sun illuminating a dusting of snow on the foothills to his West. “This is a big change on one of our three pastures.”

That big change is certainly an eye opener: 3,200 solar panels mounted on posts eight feet high above what used to be an alfalfa field on this patch of rolling farmland at the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains. – NPR

Now, Kominek sells renewable energy back into the local power grid.

As much of the western U.S. has been plagued by a 22-year megadrought, NPR reports that agrisolar is gaining momentum.

“Around the western US, water is the reason to go to war,” says Greg Barron-Gafford, a University of Arizona professor who is considered one of the country’s foremost experts in the field.

“Water is the reason we have to have real big arguments about where we’re going to get our food from in the future,” he says.

Barron-Gafford’s research in the Arizona desert showed some crops grown underneath solar panels needed 50% less water. He and other scientists have their eyes on the infrastructure bill and are pushing to get some of the estimated $300 million included in it for new solar projects to go toward agrivoltaics.

“If you really want to build infrastructure in a way that is not going to compete with food and could actually take advantage of our dwindling resources in terms of water in a really efficient way, this is something to look at,” Barron-Gafford says. – NPR

Greg Barron-Gafford is among more than 30 partners of NCAT’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse.

Listen to the story, here.

In less than a decade, solar installations are expected to cover more than 3 million acres of the United States, creating a big opportunity to pair solar with agricultural land to produce food, conserve ecosystems, create renewable energy, increase pollinator habitat, and maximize farm revenue.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology, a nonprofit focused on sustainable energy and agriculture solutions, has launched the nation’s first AgriSolar Clearinghouse to connect farmers, ranchers, land managers, solar developers, and researchers with trusted, practical information to increase the co-location of solar and agriculture.

“There are tremendous benefits of pairing solar and agriculture,” NCAT Energy Programs Director Stacie Peterson, PhD said. “As America’s appetite for sustainably grown products and renewable energy continues to increase, agrisolar has the potential to provide both resources. AgriSolar is a win-win.”  

NCAT’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse features a library of peer-reviewed information, a media hub featuring videos, podcasts, and relevant news, and a user forum to connect people interested in agrisolar development in real-time.

“The AgriSolar Clearinghouse will present a platform open to all Americans for sharing the nationwide efforts in agricultural integration at solar facilities,” said American Solar Grazing Association Executive Director Lexie Hain. “The exciting thing for us at ASGA is that the AgriSolar Clearinghouse will amplify a thoughtful and trusted approach to expanding America’s efforts in solar and agricultural land use.”

The project’s diverse group of more than 30 partners and stakeholders representing private business, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, national energy laboratories, the Smithsonian, and leading universities will be a key ingredient in supporting the expansion of agrisolar developments across the country.

NCAT’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse is funded by a three-year, $2.03 million cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The Solar Energy Technologies Office supports early-stage research and development to improve the affordability, reliability, and domestic benefit of solar technologies on the grid.

“NCAT and our partners are well positioned to help solar developers and farmers connect to make the most out of co-locating solar arrays and agricultural land,” NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson said. “For 45 years, NCAT has been a trusted broker of practical information to advance locally-grown and sustainable agriculture and energy solutions.”   

To learn more about the AgriSolar Clearinghouse visit AGRISOLARCLEARINGHOUSE.ORG.

The Associated Press is reporting on the benefits of agrisolar development, that is, the co-location of solar panels on appropriate farm land.

“There’s lots of spaces where solar could be integrated with really innovative uses of land,” said Brendan O’Neill, a University of Michigan environmental scientist who’s monitoring how planting at a new 1,752-panel facility in Cadillac, Michigan, stores carbon.

Elsewhere, solar installations host sheep that reduce need for mowing. And researchers are experimenting with crop growing beneath solar panels, while examining other potential upsides: preventing soil erosion, and conserving and cleansing water.

The Associated Press

As the AP reports, the U.S. Department of Energy is searching for the best agrisolar ideas in a project it has called InSPIRE.

The U.S. has about 2,500 solar operations on the electric grid, most generating one to five megawatts, according to the Energy Information Administration. A five-megawatt facility needs around 40 acres (16 hectares). While some occupy former industrial sites, larger installations often take space once used for row crops.

Depending on how quickly the nation switches to renewable electricity, up to 10 million acres (4 million hectares) could be needed for solar by 2050 — more than the combined area of Massachusetts and New Jersey, an analysis by Argonne found. Solar developers and researchers hope projects with multiple land uses will ease pushback from rural residents who don’t want farmland taken out of production or consider solar panels a blight.

“We need healthy agricultural communities, but we also need renewable energy,” said Jordan Macknick, the renewable energy lab’s lead analyst for InSPIRE.

The Associated Press

Jordan Macknick and others featured in this article including Greg Barron-Gafford, Rob Davis, and Lexie Hain are partners of the AgriSolar Clearinghouse.

Read the full story, here.