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Sunlight leads to new harvest

Farmers know all about harvesting sunlight. Every farmer uses sunlight to produce crops, stock and value-added products. But in recent decades it’s become possible to harvest sunlight in a new way.

Farmers can now convert sunlight to electricity they can use themselves or sell to others. And with the colocation of solar generation with cropland and grazing, solar-power generation is no longer an either-or proposition. Some farmers have been generating electricity with sunlight for decades. But for a growing number of farmers solar generation is a new crop that provides diversification with a welcome profit.

Stacie Peterson leads the Sustainable Energy Program at the National Center for Appropriate Technology; she has years of experience and advanced degrees in engineering. On a winter morning she spoke about help for farmers who desire information regarding solar-energy production.

“I’m the energy-program director at (the National Center for Appropriate Technology),” she said. “(The center) has a sustainable-agriculture program (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas) and a Sustainable Energy Program.

“One part of our sustainable-energy program is the AgriSolar Clearinghouse. It’s a technical-assistance platform funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The AgriSolar Clearinghouse provides technical assistance for energy much like (the sustainable-agriculture program) provides technical assistance for sustainable agriculture.

“We provide assistance for the co-location of agriculture and solar (generation.) There’s a wealth of information at the clearinghouse website. https://www.agrisolarclearinghouse.org/ We have a ‘how to get started in AgriSolar’ guide that walks you through available resources. We work with about 50 different partners and stakeholders with expertise around the country. We work with national labs and farming groups like American Farmland Trust. We work with universities. We work with beekeepers and graziers. The American Beekeeping Association is also our partner. We have information that people are excited about.”

During the past five years the AgriSolar Clearinghouse has gathered diverse information into one place.

“We serve as a source of technical assistance and we also connect people who are doing this,” Peterson said. “We tell the stories of farmers who have solar (generation) on their farms, like graziers who are doing it and beekeepers who have solar with pollinator habitat. We’re acting as the central connector and technical-assistance place, a first stop. If folks want to meet our stakeholders and partners we are happy to connect them. Some of our partners are also doing wonderful work that people can look at. For example the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is doing an ‘Inspire Program;’ American Farmland Trust is doing smart solar siting.

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