Connecticut-based Greenskies Clean Focus is bringing solar fields to farms across the state. Greenskies’ new pair of dual-purpose solar power generation and agricultural co-use projects in Orange and East Windsor, Conn., will begin construction later this year after recently receiving approval from the Connecticut Siting Council.
“Greenskies is excited to support a growing community of forward-thinking farmers across Connecticut,” said Stanley Chin, President and CEO of Greenskies. “Agrivoltaics is an opportunity for local farmers to contribute to an emerging field that has so many positive implications for the future of agriculture and renewable energy in an increasingly volatile climate.”
Agrivoltaics, also known as agrisolar, is the integration of solar photovoltaics and agriculture in the same area. Farmers can reap many benefits from solar power, including increased water efficiency, protection from heat stress, and extended growing and grazing seasons. Globally, agrivoltaics have been used for decades on ground-mounted solar farms, and they are now becoming popular in the US.
According to research from the Michigan Technological University and the US Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories, “the impact of solar development on land will be diminished by siting PV in a manner that is compatible with multiple uses.”
At Treat Farm, of Old Tavern Road, near Orange, a 2.9-MW solar farm will occupy approximately 6-7 acres of land. Organic vegetable crops and sustainable farming practices thrive in this prime farmland soil. The solar panels will be arranged in linear rows of approximately 34 rows of 14-foot wide aisles. The Greenskies solar installation is expected to be completed by the fall of 2022, and its first growing season will take place in the spring of 2023.
A virtual net metering contract will enable the solar array in Orange to serve as a distributed energy resource facility for Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU). With VNM, CSCU can use the energy generated at a remote site to offset its energy consumption at other locations.
On Mulnite Farms, near Miller Road, in East Windsor, a 5-MW solar farm will have a footprint of around 20 acres. The solar array will be arranged in linear rows separated by a 16.5-foot wide aisle with a ground clearance of approximately 3-feet. Greenskies will contract a sheep farmer who will provide a flock of sheep for solar grazing and act as our solar shepherd. By replacing mowing with solar grazing, greenhouse gas emissions can be further reduced.
Beginning in 2024, from spring to fall each year sheep will graze on forage and pollinator-friendly mix of wildflower and grasses growing within the fenced solar array. The flocks will rotate throughout the internal system of paddocks designed to prevent overgrazing and optimally fertilized pastures.
The project in East Windsor is part of the Connecticut Shared Clean Energy Facility (SCEF) Program for shared solar. The statewide SCEF Program expands solar access to those in the community unable to install a solar system at their home or business for various reasons, like renters. The SCEF program also increases access to clean energy for LMI customers. Energy generated by the East Windsor solar array feeds into the electric grid, and subscribers to the program receive credit for their share.
The CT Siting Council unanimously approved both projects, and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture endorsed them as non-harmful to farmland soils. Combining these competing land uses into a mutually beneficial arrangement is great accomplishment. These projects simultaneously protect and improve valuable soil for future generations while producing renewable energy that is needed now. The improved soil and vegetation growth is also expected to sequester more CO2 than the land would otherwise in previous uses.
Greenskies has spoken with several interested parties for each property but not yet formally engaged anyone to farm them yet. Both Orange and East Windsor will support solar and agricultural activities for an anticipated service life of 20 to 30 years.
“For crops, like vegetables, or livestock, like sheep, to coexist with solar has so much potential,” said Chin. “The idea is to create a mutually beneficial environment for agricultural activity and solar energy production.”
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