Betting on the Family Solar Farm

Over the years, I’ve been involved in many efforts to save the family farm.  I’ve seen small and mid-sized farms struggle, causing farmers to urge their children to seek nonfarm careers and sell the farm for development.  American Farmland Trust calculates that an acre of farm and ranch land is lost every minute in this country.

In the midst of the fanfare over last week’s announcement of the new Capital Partners Solar Project, you may have missed one of my favorite aspects of the story – solar generation on the family farm as an income diversification strategy to stay strong. 

Capital Partners Solar Project is a partnership between George Washington University, George Washington Hospital, and American University who together signed a 20 year contract with Duke Energy Renewables to purchase 52 megawattts of solar energy from three “solar farms” in North Carolina.  When all of the solar photovoltaic panels come on line in 2015, 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be eliminated annually, the equivalent of removing 12,500 cars of the road.    

Jon Crouse, trustee for one of the “solar farms” used to generate renewable energy for the Capital Partners Solar Project will have panels on 25% of his acreage, leaving 75% dedicated to agriculture.  Crouse says this project “enables us to diversify from a fully agricultural portfolio, build economic sustainability and become part of a larger effort to be good stewards of the environment.”  That is good news, particularly in North Carolina, a state that has lost nearly 750,000 acres of farmland over the past 30 years.   

Farmers across the country are getting into renewable energy as a way to boost profits and be good land stewards.  In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its Census of Agriculture, as it does every five years.  The Census revealed that 36,331 farms across the country have solar panels.  Other renewable energy efforts identified by the Census include: 9,403 farms with geoexchange systems; 9,403 farms with wind turbines; and 1,323 farms with small hydro systems. 

Although I am sitting in an office 4 blocks from the White House in the midst of a big city, I know that when I hit the light switch, Capital Partners Solar Project is helping to sustain America’s farms and reduce harmful emissions that threaten our climate.  Now, that’s a sunny thought!   

Kathleen Merrigan is Executive Director of Sustainability at The George Washington University and the former Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture.

Photo courtesy of Michael Schuchard

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