Tag Archive for: on-farm renewable energy

It should come as no surprise that farmers are busy people. Success in farming requires hard work and long days, not to mention staying up to speed on farming practices and technologies. As renewable energy deployment on farmland becomes more common, farmers can face challenges understanding how to site and maintain these systems.

Drew Shiavone of the University of Maryland is meeting farmers where they are by providing digestible information on farm-based solar photovoltaics (PV) via 10- to 15-minute YouTube clips. The “Solar Clips” video series shows practical, step-by-step tutorials on various phases of the solar installation and maintenance process, from site assessment and shading analysis to wiring panels and replacing diodes. The series was created by Shiavone under a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant that will expand solar installations on farms in Maryland.

The grant project, led by Shiavone, is focusing on “train-the-trainer” workshops that will allow Extension agents and other agriculture service providers in the region to deliver education and training to farmers on topics such as solar PV technology basics, on-farm applications, and solar contracts and leasing options.

Along with the common “not in my backyard” mentality or concerns for the local economy, aversion to renewable energy installations is also often rooted in a lack of knowledge about the technology. Educational tools such as the Solar Clips series can help close the knowledge gap for farmers and increase support for on-farm renewable energy development. By empowering the farmer through practical solutions, agricultural production and decarbonization efforts are strengthened.

Farmer-members of Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative representing nearly 1,800 family farms, can now access renewable energy options for their operations. In Vermont, solar development company SunCommon has created a program to help Organic Valley farmers access and implement solar energy. SunCommon provides the financing and ownership options for solar array installation so that farmers have no upfront costs while offsetting their energy usage and receiving credits on their utility bills.

Photo Courtesy of SunCommon and Choiniere Family Farm

SunCommon offers a variety of system sizes, ranging from smaller systems to meet the needs of a single farm to community-scale systems that can power a farm plus 40 to 50 homes. The company has so far assisted 75 farmers in Vermont and New York implement solar energy, including the Choiniere Family Farm in Highgate, Vermont, which had farm infrastructure that they were planning to retire from production because of its depreciation. When the opportunity to install solar became available, the Choiniere family happily signed on, since the Organic Valley investment made the project low-risk. It turned out to be a good decision: the Choinieres were able to revive the barn by installing solar panels on the roof, which adds overall value, and turn the barn into a new milking parlor. SunCommon helped this family farm install panels that can produce 115,500 kWh each year, saving them $20,000 annually.

Photo Courtesy of SunCommon and Choiniere Family Farm

Organic Valley is the largest farmer-owned organic cooperative in the United States, with over 100 farmer-members in the state of Vermont. This program is currently accepting new Organic Valley farmers to participate. If you are in Vermont or New York and want to take advantage of reduced costs through solar energy generation with no upfront costs, follow this link to learn more.