Why the ground under Colorado solar panels is ripe for growing food

Byron Kominek picks dried seed pods off of a clary sage plant at Jack’s Solar Farm in Longmont on Dec. 8, 2022. (Tyler Hickman, Special to The Colorado Sun)

At sites around the country, once-verdant fields, farms and forests are reduced to gravel lots to make way for utility-scale solar plants. At some, carefully trimmed Kentucky bluegrass is permitted to grow beneath the panels.

Just off Hover Road south of Longmont, one solar project breaks this mold. Savory herbs, berry bushes, veggies and hay flourish between rows of elevated photovoltaic panels. Jack’s Solar Garden is the largest commercially active research facility in the United States for “agrivoltaics,” a land-use model that combines agriculture with solar power. In just a few acres, the site grows produce for a local farm, produces enough electricity to power 300 homes and hosts researchers from three separate institutions. The project preserves the tradition of the land, which is a third-generation hay operation. At the same time, it is well-positioned for a future in which Colorado’s energy needs are increasingly met by renewable sources.

The idea behind agrivoltaics is simple: use the “empty” space beneath solar panels to grow stuff. However, the concept is still young. Agrivoltaic farms and research sites are owned and operated by a select few advocates around the country. During this legislative session, two Colorado senators plan to introduce a bill that could position the state as a leader in agrivoltaics research. 01-22-23

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