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CO Family Farm Taps Solar to Boost Revenues, Food Production

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Jack's Solar Garden in Boulder County offers tours to visiting farmers and local schools to help cultivate the next generation of agrivoltaic farmers. (NREL)
Jack's Solar Garden in Boulder County offers tours to visiting farmers and local schools to help cultivate the next generation of agrivoltaic farmers. (NREL)
 By Eric Galatas - Producer, Contact
January 21, 2021

LONGMONT, Colo. -- As the nation moves to ramp up clean-energy production, Jack's Solar Garden, a locally owned farm just south of Longmont, could provide a model for family-scale operations across the U.S.

The farm has boosted revenues after planting 3,200 solar panels, enough to power more than 300 homes, and uses the soil underneath to grow produce.

Jordan Macknick, lead energy-water-land analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is the lead researcher on co-locating solar with agriculture, or agrivoltaics.

"You're really harvesting the sun twice," Macknick explained. "You can utilize the sun that hits the solar panels to produce clean electricity. And all of the sun that lands around the panels, underneath the panels, that can be converted into food, into agricultural production."

Some farmers have been reluctant to embrace the idea of adding large solar panels to productive fields, worried they would compete with plants for sunlight.

Macknick noted Jack's solar panels sit about eight feet above ground, and they're spaced out to allow enough sunlight through to keep the soil productive.

The farm also is working to help struggling butterflies, bees and other pollinator species, which are key to producing a wide range of foods, by adding flowers and grasses they need to thrive underneath panels.

Macknick added pollinator-friendly plants have long root systems, which help conserve water by soaking up rainfall, important for semi-arid regions such as Colorado.

"Incorporating pollinator habitat under solar arrays gives us an opportunity to create massive pollinator habitat at scale, which then can benefit our surrounding agricultural communities," Macknick emphasized.

Jack's donates a portion of the credits it receives for energy added to the local power grid to the Boulder County Housing Authority to help low-income households.

The farm also hires artists to illustrate the value of combining food and solar production, and offers tours to visiting farmers and local schools to help cultivate the next generation of agrivoltaic farmers.

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