Updated November 1, 2023
Central Pennsylvania is witnessing a surge in solar development on farmland, sparking debate over aesthetics and land use. In response, Pasa Sustainable Agriculture is spearheading a pioneering effort to introduce farmers to a groundbreaking approach—agrivoltaics—allowing continued farming while generating solar energy, addressing concerns in communities resistant to traditional large-scale solar projects.
Agrivoltaics, a model integrating raised solar panels with ongoing farming and livestock grazing, offers a promising solution. With Pennsylvania's goal to produce 10% of its electricity from solar by 2030, it aligns with the state's climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a carbon-free grid.
Sara Nicholas, a policy strategist with Pasa, stated,
"Solar is a really strong interest among our 7,500 members and beyond. What farmers that we have talked to really would like is to integrate solar into their ongoing agricultural production."
The model not only enhances sustainability but also provides a stable income source for farms through land leases. Agrivoltaics serves as a harmonious blend of farming and renewable energy, mitigating concerns over the loss of open land and offering a smaller environmental footprint.
Doug Neidich, CEO of GreenWorks Development, a solar development company implementing agrivoltaic panels, emphasized the financial stability this approach brings to farmers.
"We're moving forward on all of these projects to get farmers in a situation in which they've got more financial stability in what they do," he noted. GreenWorks' standard lease lasts for 30 years, with the flexibility for farms to continue farming once the lease expires.
One shining example of this innovative collaboration is Pittsburgher Highlander Farm, in partnership with Pasa and GreenWorks Development, installing elevated panels to accommodate Scottish Highland cattle. While the initial 30-year lease term may seem daunting, it's viewed as a gateway to sustainable goals, attracting younger generations to farming, and providing consistent income. Land leases from GreenWorks Development range from $1,500 to $2,500 per acre per year.
Mark Smith, co-owner of Highlander Farm, expressed his enthusiasm,
"Agrivoltaics is one more big component in all of what we're doing here, and I see it as a component that not only can coexist with what we're doing but it enhances what we're doing."
The groundbreaking project undertaken by Pasa, GreenWorks Development, and farms like Highlander Farm aims to set a precedent for interested parties. Nicholas acknowledges that few such projects exist in Pennsylvania, making it challenging for farmers to assess their suitability for leases.
To further investigate the impact and feasibility of solar on farms, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania has allocated funding for two research projects. Dr. Hannah Wiseman, a professor at the Penn State College of Law and College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, is leading one of these studies, Understanding and Addressing the Impact of Solar Development on Farmland.
"One question we have is the extent to which agrivoltaics are in fact happening and are feasible and what factors need to be in place to make agrivoltaics more of a reality,"
Dr. Wiseman shared. Her team is actively engaging with farmers, elected officials, and community members to better understand the implications of solar developments.
As agrivoltaics paves the way for a greener, more sustainable Pennsylvania, it represents a pivotal shift towards preserving the environment while sustaining agriculture and harnessing solar power.
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