In this first episode of the AgriSolar Clearinghouse webinar series, NREL’s Jordan Macknick, James McCall, and Haley Paterson join us to discuss the context and costs of agrivoltaics in the United States.

For this November teatime, we were excited to have Tyler Swanson and Jessica Guarino from the University of Illinois join us to discuss the latest on agrivoltaic regulations (check out their discussion of zoning, for example), solar grazing contracts, the economic considerations around grazing, and best practices from the targeted grazing industry that solar graziers can use for insight when developing contractual agreements. Much of the discussion revolved around issues concerning farmland becoming solar sites and the local conflicts that can create.

We had a very interesting discussion during the Q&A, where graziers dug into issues surrounding scaling up solar grazing, expanding agrivoltaics into crop production, and optimizing land-use for grazing at solar sites.

This Teatime was hosted by Kevin Richardson of the American Solar Grazing Association and Dr. Stacie Peterson of the AgriSolar Clearinghouse.

In November, Sabrina Portner from the University of Minnesota presented on her exciting research into growing 14 different forage and grain crops at three different solar sites. The forages and grain were grown in the context of feeding them to the research farm dairy herd. Sabrina and her team looked at how different shade levels affected each crop’s biomass production, as well as the nutritional value of the crops.

This research addresses an important issue: as land availability pressures increase, especially with the expansion of solar in rural areas, the sustainable intensification of agriculture and the need for combining solar sites with agricultural production become more imperative. Their research works towards both goals of food production and clean energy production while providing flexible economic opportunities to farmers.

This Teatime was hosted by Kevin Richardson of the American Solar Grazing Association and Victorian Smart of the AgriSolar Clearinghouse.

In August 2022, ASGA Board President Jonathan Barter and “The Grass Whisperer” Troy Bishopp joined us for a lively discussion on how to plan grazing management. 

For their follow up, Jonathan and Troy led a discussion focused on planning for larger grazing operations. They invited graziers and ASGA members JR Howard, Josiah Fleury, and Dennis Bauman to discuss their experience with grazing operations on large sites. The conversation was wide-ranging and dug into the practical components of how you plan grazing at scale as well as regional differences, including between smaller-scale operations in the Northeast where utility-scale grazing is less common and Texas and other states where utility-scale grazing is more the norm.

Here are some of the broader topics they covered:  

  • Their roles in site design and layout
  • Challenges they’ve encountered in developing management strategies
  • Planning for economic considerations and contract compliance
  • Water supply, mowing, and fees

Hosts: Kevin Richardson (ASGA) and Carl Berntsen from AgriSolar Clearinghouse / NCAT

This Teatime is part of a series co-hosted and sponsored by the AgriSolar Clearing House team. We thank them for their generous support and for adding their expertise to the Teatime events!

Dr. John Walker (TAMU AgriLife Research) and Haley Gosnell (who runs joined us to discuss the extensive practical targeted grazing knowledge he and his team have collected from graziers across the U.S. and Canada. John is a range livestock and wildlife specialist who focuses on vegetation and diet selection for grazing ruminants.

From 2021-2022, he and his team conducted a survey of over a 100 targeted grazing serviced providers in the U.S. and Canada, as well as parallel focus groups, on lessons learned from their experiences with targeted grazing. The survey covered a number of different landscapes (from rural to urban and private to public) and variations in vegetation, grazing scales (small to large), and grazing season lengths. This was part of an effort to update the American Sheep Industry’s 2006 Targeted Grazing Handbook.

John discussed the results of the survey and its insights into targeted grazing.

Hosts: Kevin Richardson (ASGA), Caroline Owens (ASGA Board Member), and Carl Berntsen from AgriSolar Clearinghouse / NCAT

This Teatime is part of a series co-hosted and sponsored by the AgriSolar Clearing House team. We thank them for their generous support and for adding their expertise to the Teatime events!

About the Speakers:

Dr. John Walker, Professor, Range Specialist: I am a Professor and Resident Director of Research at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center in San Angelo, Texas. My responsibilities include providing leadership to a multi-disciplinary team of six scientists that develop new technologies for increasing the efficiency and sustainability of range livestock and wildlife production. My research interest relates to developing new technologies for modifying diet selection of grazing ruminants. It has long been known that livestock grazing affects the botanical composition of vegetation communities. By avoiding some plant species and preferring others, livestock provide a competitive advantage to plants that are avoided, which allows them to increase and often dominate a site. Grazing systems were developed to help overcome this adverse effect of selective grazing on rangeland composition. I am interested in directly modifying the grazing habits of livestock through selective breeding, nutritional interventions and learning. In conjunction with this research, I have developed near-infrared spectroscopy calibrations that use fecal spectra to predict the botanical composition of diets.

What are asset managers looking for when they evaluate proposals from solar graziers? What kinds of concerns do asset managers have about grazing that need to be resolved to get to the contract stage?

Keanen Ryan and Lexie Hain from Lightsource bp joined us for a wonderful conversation that answered these questions from the solar operations perspective. Keanen and Lexie also discussed what they’re looking for from graziers in terms of services and experience in order to meet the economic and sustainability standards of Lightsource bp.

ASGA Board President Jonathan Barter and “The Grass Whisperer” Troy Bishopp joined us to talk with ASGA members about the principles of planned grazing and the specific issues one needs to know to do solar grazing. We had a lively discussion, with ASGA folks bringing up a number of practical questions about how to plan your grazing management (fencing, having retreat sites, rotations, and more) and the importance of having a grazing plan to fulfill contracts and keep operations profitable. The conversation also touched on grazing large-scale solar sites with larger herds, as well as regional variations.

We ended up running out of time, but Jonathan and Troy have promised to hold a round 2 of this Teatime soon. Keep a lookout for that one.

Carolina Solar Services has an impressive solar grazing operation based in North Carolina with high performance standards for the industry.

For our July Teatime, Brock Phillips from Carolina Solar Services talked with us about how they run their solar grazing operations and handle sustainable vegetation management at solar arrays. Brock touched on how they manage livestock, optimizing sites for sheep, seed mixes, the ecological benefits of their grazing, and more.

About the Speaker:

Brock Phillips is the Director of Livestock Services for Carolina Solar Services (CSS), a utility-scale solar O&M company based in Durham, NC. He manages a portfolio of solar sites across the Piedmont region of North Carolina through the integration of rotational livestock grazing and conventional vegetation maintenance. He began solar grazing in 2014 and since 2018 has worked with CSS to develop livestock grazing as a low-impact, ecological solution to solar farm maintenance.

Hear the latest from Massachusetts on dual-use solar research and programs, from hay to vegetables to pollinators!

Agrivoltaics/dual-use solar covers an increasingly wide umbrella of types of agriculture as the importance of maintaining farmland with solar sites becomes a greater area of focus. Many of the ideas on what can be grown, raised or grazed next to panels are still in the early experimental stages and need more research and data.

The state of Massachusetts is supporting a variety of research projects on different applications of dual-use solar, ranging from hay to vegetable crops to pollinators and, of course, sheep grazing.

Gerry Palano from the MA Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) will join us to talk about a number of those projects and the different forms of dual-use.

Gerry’s talk will also provide a broad overview of MDAR’s SMART program for commercial scale dual-use solar projects and the incentives and tools the state offers. He will dig into the opportunities and challenges surrounding dual-use projects.

About the Speaker

Gerry Palano works on Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Programs for the MA Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). Gerry began working for MDAR in May 2007 as an Alternative Energy Specialist and Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Programs Coordinator and created MDAR’s first energy program to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy implementation on farms through education and technical assistance.

He works with farmers to help them understand and incorporate the various energy efficiency, clean energy technologies and financial incentives for their projects. He created MDAR’s Ag Energy Grant Program and collaboratively helped create the original MA Farm Energy Program (MFEP), currently contracted with the Center for EcoTechnology (CET) for assistance to administer the program. MFEP is a one-stop, day-to-day shopping center of technical and financial assistance for farms across the state to implement energy efficiency and clean energy projects.

Gerry has devoted his career to the energy efficiency/clean energy sector. He has over 40 years of experience as an engineering consultant and energy project developer, including the private commercial, health care and institutional sectors, and most recently in government with agriculture.

How can shepherds and solar companies understand each other’s basic requirements and seal the deal?

Join us to hear about the updated “Solar Grazing Checklist for Shepherds and Solar Sites Mangers” from our friends in Vermont, who designed the checklist to help graziers and site operators understand each other’s positions. The conversation will be led by Alex DePillis from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and Kimberly Hagen, the Grazing Specialist at the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at UVM Extension. They’ll go over the checklist, provide examples, and talk about the challenges faced by both graziers and site operators.

Following their short presentation, the second half of the Teatime will be dedicated to a Q&A with solar site operators and shepherds, who will discuss best practices for grazing to manage vegetation in the Northeast.

Hosts: Kevin Richardson (ASGA) , ASGA Outreach Coordinator, and Stacie Peterson from the AgriSolar Clearing House and Energy Program Director at the National Center for Appropriate Technology .

About the Speakers:

Alex DePillis has been developing clean energy projects and policies in public service and in the private sector since 1993. In public service, he has developed renewable energy policies and programs and administered grant programs. At the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, he helps farmers and solar developers develop agrivoltaic projects. He also has a regulatory role in Vermont’s statewide energy-siting process to review solar energy projects for their impact on farmland.

Kimberly Hagen is the Grazing Specialist at the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at UVM Extension. Kimberly joined the Center for Sustainable Agriculture in February 2012 to provide technical assistance and support for grass-based farms: for those already immersed in the practices, those planning to transition, and everything in between. Kimberly spent several years working on all kinds of farms around the world, finally returning to Vermont where she has been raising sheep, chickens, horses and the occasional cow, on her own grass-based farm since 1987, and providing agricultural education and outreach for NOFA to communities and schools.