At long last, summer weather has arrived in the Northeast! Our first 90-degree day came earlier than expected but will soon be followed by other telltale signs of summer: awkward tan lines, buzzing bees, and farm stands overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables. The sun is, of course, the source of all this bounty. Increasingly, it’s also a direct source of our nation’s electric supply, which is helping farmers, their communities, and their pollinators in surprising ways.
It’s no secret that Rural America isn’t experiencing the same economic growth and recovery as America’s metropolises, but bucolic counties across the nation are bucking this trend through the strategic installation of solar energy systems. The expansion of the solar industry has increased demand for land (though some make use of large commercial roofs), and developers have naturally turned to the geographic abundance lying beyond the suburbs to find space to put their panels. This dynamic gives farmers and other landowners an opportunity to sell or lease their property to generate passive income, which they can then invest in equipment, facilities, or labor. Solar arrays don’t permanently alter the landscape, either, so agricultural activity or other development can resume after a system is decommissioned. Some may worry about preserving the rural character of their towns, but that’s where a community-focused strategy comes in to play.
When people picture solar facilities, they might think of the massive installations sprawling over 50, 100, even 1000, acres. But that represents only one model of solar power, called “utility-scale” because they sell power to utility companies who then resell it to their customers. These systems are absolutely vital to our transition away from polluting fossil fuels, but they’re not the right fit in every town. Agricultural communities that want to participate in the green energy revolution without giving up a significant portion of their farmland have another option called Community Solar. Under this model, the clean solar energy is sold directly to nearby families and businesses (at a discount!). Most states limit these systems to 2-5 megawatts, meaning they’ll generally occupy between 5 and 15 acres. Therefore, rural neighborhoods can have their cake and eat it too—maintaining their connection to the land that their families may have worked for generations while also benefiting from cutting-edge technology.
Solar installations have advantages to farmers beyond the extra cash in their wallets. First and foremost is their contribution to combating global climate change, which will have potentially devastating impacts on crop yields if nothing is done to prevent it. More than just delaying a looming disaster, solar facilities can actually enhance the productivity of nearby farms when paired with features that attract and support bees, butterflies, and other threatened insect populations. Pollinator-friendly solar, as it’s called, hosts wildflower gardens that act as both food and shelter for these critters whose habitats have been decimated by various human activities and on whom depends at least a third of all commercial agriculture, though some estimates go as high as 80%. For example, Monolith Solar runs a program called The Battle of the Bees, which is a competition among middle and high school students to design the best flower beds at our solar sites. By bringing these tiny titans of industry back to the areas where they are most needed, solar facilities are generating the type of revitalization that struggling countryside entrepreneurs have been searching for.
A field of sleek black panels may look a little different than amber waves of grain, but there’s a reason it’s called a solar farm—the principle behind photovoltaics is as old as agriculture itself: we transform sunlight into energy that humans can consume. By filling both our bellies and our batteries, pioneering American growers can continue to form the bedrock of our economy with the help of experienced solar developers like Monolith Solar. Our mission is to empower communities to choose clean accessible energy to build a sustainable future together, and we’re committed to providing long-term solutions with immediate impact. If you’re considering selling or leasing your land, we can perform a free analysis of the property to determine its solar potential. If you don’t own land yourself but know someone who does, we also run a referral rewards program that will earn you $500 for every parcel you help us acquire! Give us a call at 518-444-2044 to learn more about all the possibilities solar energy holds for your community.