2 Connecticut solar farms will also grow crops

Solar Power World | Billy Ludt
February 1, 2022

Connecticut-based Greenskies Clean Focus is bringing farming to solar fields across Connecticut. Following the recent green light from the Connecticut Siting Council, two new Greenskies solar power and agricultural co-use projects will break ground later this year in Orange and East Windsor.

“Greenskies is excited to support a growing community of forward-thinking farmers across Connecticut,” said Stanley Chin, president and CEO of Greenskies. “Agrivoltaics is an opportunity for local farmers to contribute to an emerging field that has so many positive implications for the future of agriculture and renewable energy in an increasingly volatile climate.”

“Agrivoltaics,” sometimes called “agrisolar,” is the co-location of solar photovoltaics and agriculture in the same area. Solar can offer many valuable benefits to farmers, including increased water efficiency, protection from heat stress and extended growing and grazing seasons.

In Orange, a 2.9-MW solar farm will occupy around six acres of land at Treat Farm, off of Old Tavern Road. This prime farmland soil is ideal for organic vegetable growth and sustainable farming practices. The growing beds will consist of approximately 34-rows of 14-ft wide aisles between rows of solar panels. Greenskies plans to complete this solar installation by the Fall 2022 and anticipates that Spring 2023 will be its first growing season.

The solar array in Orange will act as a distributed energy resource facility benefiting the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) through a virtual net metering agreement.

In East Windsor, a 5-MW solar farm will occupy around 20 acres of land at Mulnite Farms, off of Miller Road. The solar array will be arranged in rows separated by a 16.5-foot wide aisle with a ground clearance of approximately 3-feet. Greenskies intends to contract a flock of sheep for solar grazing. Grazing with sheep can replace mowing and further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Beginning in Spring 2024, sheep will graze throughout the fenced solar array through the fall each year. Sheep will graze on a pollinator-friendly mix of wildflower and grasses growing within the fenced solar array. The sheep will rotate through an internal system of paddocks designed to prevent overgrazing and optimally fertilized pastures.

The project in East Windsor is part of the Connecticut Shared Clean Energy Facility (SCEF) Program for shared solar. SCEF expands solar access to people in the community who may not be able to install a solar system at their home or business. The program also increases access to clean energy for low- to moderate-income customers.

Both projects have been approved in unanimous votes from the Connecticut Siting Council and received endorsements from the State Department of Agriculture for their soil considerations. The improved soil and vegetation growth is expected to sequester more CO2 than the land would otherwise in previous uses. Both Orange and East Windsor will support solar and agricultural activities for an anticipated service life of 20 to 30 years.

“For crops, like vegetables, or livestock, like sheep, to coexist with solar has so much potential,” Chin said. “The idea is to create a mutually beneficial environment for agricultural activity and solar energy production.”