Cash-strapped farms are growing a new crop: Solar panels
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
The Kominek family farm is a green expanse of hay and alfalfa in northern Colorado. The family has planted and raked crops for half a century, but as yields declined over recent years, the farm began losing money. In late 2017, Byron Kominek went looking for more profitable alternatives, including installing solar panels and selling electricity to the utility. But Boulder County’s land-use codes made it difficult to use their 24 acres for anything but farming.
So the Komineks found a compromise: a solar array with plants growing beneath, between, and around rows of photovoltaic panels.
Construction is slated to begin this spring on a 1.2-megawatt solar array on the Kominek farm. Some 3,300 solar panels will rest on 6-foot and 8-foot-high stilts, providing shade for crops like tomatoes, peppers, kale, and beans on a five-acre plot. Pasture grasses and beehive boxes are planned for the perimeter.
“Now there will be potentially more food grown in the community, more renewable energy, and more revenue to local farms,” said Kominek, 37, whose late grandfather Jack bought the farm in 1972.
If successful, the project could serve as a model for other cash-strapped farmers, by transforming underperforming fields into potentially money-making hubs of clean energy and fresh food.