Solar Energy Brings New Income To Traditional Farms

Solar companies are trying to support "dual land use," meaning they are building panel structures that can co-exist with what the area is already used for. That means a lot of sheep are being put to work at the solar farm.


May 23 2019, Updated 10:26 a.m. ET

The need for solar power and other renewable energy sources is constantly increasing. People are realizing that coal is an energy source of the past and many are taking their cue and trying to fill the energy gap with renewable resources. But even clean energy demands infrastructure, materials and space for both. Project Earth has identified a growing trend amongst solar farm builders, which is to pair their work with actual farms. It's a great match.

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Photovoltaic arrays, or solar panels, are built high enough that the sun can still reach the ground and grow grass, which in turn means farmers can still raise livestock or grow crops on land their land while the panels absorb sun above. It's called "dual land use" and more and more farmers and ranchers are getting on board. 

Many of the farms are using the panels to generate power for their own use, which saves them money and keeps their land cleaner. Others are making money by leasing their land to companies who are looking for areas cleared of growth in which to build the solar panels. In fact, some farmers make more money from the green energy operation on their land than they do from their crops. For example, in North Carolina farmers can make up to $1,400 an acre from solar companies.

A tobacco grower named Dawson Singletary told Bloomberg, “There is not a single crop that we could have grown on that land that would generate the income that we get from the solar farm." The money he made saved his entire operation.

It's not just in the states that the practice has become both popular and lucrative. In the UK, it's a popular solution for farmers dependent on land for grazing, especially in the areas known for raising sheep. Having sheep around is even good for the panels, because they keep the grass nice and cropped, so it doesn't grow and block the units. In turn, the structures provide some shade for the animals when they're off lawn clipping duty.

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One farmer named Andrew Hawkey in Cornwall said it's made a big difference for him in more ways than one, since the company went the extra mile and planted wildflowers to garner local bee interest.

“I am very happy to be able to continue grazing my livestock within the same fields amongst the rows of panels,” he explained. “My sheep keep the site looking fantastic and prevent any overgrowth shading of the panels.” 

Hawkey's statement is part of promotional material from solar panel company Belectric, so it's especially positive, but the reality is that solar panel solutions are needed to make renewable energy accessible to all. If the transition can co-exist with people's current way of life, it will be a smoother change for everyone, including the sheep.

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