Officials in Colorado have approved a 383-acre solar project in western Colorado after proprietors agreed to integrate agriculture on the farm. Initially, officials were hesitant to approve the Guzman Energy proposal. However, once the company agreed to add irrigation and keep up to 1000 sheep on the farm, it got quick approval from the Delta County Colorado Commissioners.
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The project aims at generating 80 megawatts (MW) of energy, making it Colorado’s largest agrivoltaic installation, a practice of agriculture and green energy production on the same piece of land. Known as Garnet Mesa Solar Project, the solar farm is one among the many solar farms across the world that are now seeking to leverage agriculture to optimize land use.
When the $80 million solar farm project is complete, it will generate more than 194,000 megawatt hours per year. The energy will be sufficient to power over 18, 000 homes. Although a start date for the project has not yet been set, the electric cooperative Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) will directly purchase part of the energy produced on the farm. The rest of the power will be supplied to additional wholesale customers.
The approval of the project after the introduction of sheep and irrigation shows the importance of agriculture in making such projects economically viable. In 2019, Oregon State University published a study indicating that less than 1% of the world’s agricultural land could generate sufficient energy for the whole world if put under solar. The good news is that solar and agriculture could share the same land. Even more important is the fact that the integration of solar and framing could actually increase agricultural productivity.
The shades that solar panels create can be instrumental in moderating the heat and light that reaches crops underneath. This approach helps save water but also maximizes productivity. The introduction of agrovoltaics has proven to be a win-win for those supporting green energy and pro-economic individuals. Recently, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory embarked on funding an agrovoltaics research project. The project will help find a way forward on how to integrate agriculture into the solar farms being set up across the country.
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