Colorado farmers add a sun crop with community solar and gain long-term financial security
John Leonard, who purchased the family farm near Platteville, Colorado on April 6, 1951, and a member of the Flying Farmers group pictured with his granddaughter, Paula Carr during the summer of 1957.
John Leonard together with granddaughter Paula Carr in 1981 on the Platteville, Colorado farm, which is the planned location of the Paula Carr Memorial Community Solar Garden.
Colorado, Dec. 08, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Graham Carr spent the last 15 years working to restore his wife’s family farm to fulfill her grandfather’s wishes. The property located near Longmont, Colorado, is situated on dry, rocky soil that is challenging to farm and referred to as dry-land farming. Though he has a tenant farmer growing winter hay grass for dairy cows, not all the land is usable for crop growth. Graham Carr had been looking for alternative uses for those specific portions of the land to keep the farm productive and increase long-term, stable income, when he was approached by Colorado community solar company, SunShare.
“I was actually looking into solar potential when SunShare contacted me about a community solar garden,” says Graham Carr. “My wife’s grandfather always wanted the property to stay productive and always for crops. I thought, ‘This is a chance to grow a different type of crop using the sun to harvest energy rather than plants,’ and the idea that it would be available to the entire community made it even better.” The Paula Carr Memorial Community Solar Garden will be built on the family land in memory of Graham Carr’s wife who recently passed away.
Community solar is a solar farm, not owned by the utility company, that provides electricity through the existing power grid. Instead of putting panels on rooftops, households and businesses subscribe to a portion of the energy produced by the community solar garden. The utility continues delivering energy to the home or business, and the subscriber receives solar credits on their electricity bill.
Community solar gardens are becoming more commonplace in farmland as consumers increase demand for solar energy and landowners recognize the hidden gem of harvesting the sun. Farmers are finding uses for previously-unused land as companies like SunShare seek additional space to build. Long-term leases can guarantee stable incomes for landowners regardless of fluctuating crop costs and other farming challenges, ensuring legacies for families. Especially attractive are segments outside the reach of circular pivot irrigation systems, which optimize crop yields through efficient water use.
Pivot systems irrigate circular segments but leave corners of land without water. These corner sections were previously unusable and did not generate income – and they provide the perfect opportunity for use as community solar gardens, which provide steady income along with clean renewable energy for the community for decades. Similarly, some mandated set-back areas often found on farm property are unusable for crops but work perfectly as hosts for solar gardens, improving land usage and sustainability.
As more farmers learn of community solar potential on their property, they are thrilled to find out there is such a valuable use for this land without sacrifices to their crops, and this provides a unique way to maximize their income stream. When SunShare and Graham Carr worked together to identify where on the property the solar garden would be built, they identified a corner section that was soon to become unusable for crops, as Graham Carr and the tenant farmer were planning to install a pivot system that would render the sections of property outside of the watering curve useless for crops.
“SunShare was very concerned that I achieve what I wanted to get out of the land,” says Graham Carr. The portion that was soon to be without value becomes a long-term financial security for future generations with a community solar garden. “It’s exciting because this gives me an opportunity to generate income for the family while continuing my wife’s grandfather’s vision.”
Like Graham Carr, farmers across the country are turning to community solar to expand the energy mix on their land and add long-term financial stability. The Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act, which was signed into law by Governor Jared Polis in 2019 at one of SunShare’s other community solar gardens, increased the allowable size of community solar gardens from two megawatts to five megawatts – increasing the potential land lease revenue for farmers like Graham Carr, and increasing the subscription potential from about 450 households per garden to more than 1,100 households per garden. That same law increases the maximum garden size to 10 megawatts in 2023 – again doubling this potential.
“We have always tried to build our community solar gardens in a way that improves the value of the land – whether by partnering with farmers to create value on unusable acreage, or by planting native wildflowers and grasses to provide forage for honeybees,” Corrina Kumpe, SunShare COO, said. “Community is at the very heart of what we do, and creating a legacy for families like the Carrs is a key component to our work to create access to clean, renewable energy for everyone.”
Graham Carr and his family agree. They look forward to their new crop of solar energy.
CONTACT: Kim Casey SunShare 7193316202 firstname.lastname@example.org