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In less than a decade, solar installations are expected to cover more than 3 million acres of the United States, creating a big opportunity to pair solar with agricultural land to produce food, conserve ecosystems, create renewable energy, increase pollinator habitat, and maximize farm revenue.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology, a nonprofit focused on sustainable energy and agriculture solutions, has launched the nation’s first AgriSolar Clearinghouse to connect farmers, ranchers, land managers, solar developers, and researchers with trusted, practical information to increase the co-location of solar and agriculture.

“There are tremendous benefits of pairing solar and agriculture,” NCAT Energy Programs Director Stacie Peterson, PhD said. “As America’s appetite for sustainably grown products and renewable energy continues to increase, agrisolar has the potential to provide both resources. AgriSolar is a win-win.”  

NCAT’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse features a library of peer-reviewed information, a media hub featuring videos, podcasts, and relevant news, and a user forum to connect people interested in agrisolar development in real-time.

“The AgriSolar Clearinghouse will present a platform open to all Americans for sharing the nationwide efforts in agricultural integration at solar facilities,” said American Solar Grazing Association Executive Director Lexie Hain. “The exciting thing for us at ASGA is that the AgriSolar Clearinghouse will amplify a thoughtful and trusted approach to expanding America’s efforts in solar and agricultural land use.”

The project’s diverse group of more than 30 partners and stakeholders representing private business, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, national energy laboratories, the Smithsonian, and leading universities will be a key ingredient in supporting the expansion of agrisolar developments across the country.

NCAT’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse is funded by a three-year, $2.03 million cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The Solar Energy Technologies Office supports early-stage research and development to improve the affordability, reliability, and domestic benefit of solar technologies on the grid.

“NCAT and our partners are well positioned to help solar developers and farmers connect to make the most out of co-locating solar arrays and agricultural land,” NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson said. “For 45 years, NCAT has been a trusted broker of practical information to advance locally-grown and sustainable agriculture and energy solutions.”

To learn more about the AgriSolar Clearinghouse visit AGRISOLARCLEARINGHOUSE.ORG.

By Steve Thompson, NCAT Executive Director

Dave Atkins, a forest landowner in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley, peers through the smoke-filled gloom of another hot and dry August, and he sees hope on the horizon. He’s part of a collaborative project with other small landowners, federal land agencies, conservation and watershed groups that thinks that an important solution can be found in a porous black shred of carbon called biochar.
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The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) will launch an online information clearinghouse in 2021 to promote solar-energy development on agricultural lands while protecting — and even improving — those lands’ agricultural capacity.

NCAT was selected for a $1.6 million cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the Agri-Solar Clearinghouse (ASC), a national information hub and professional network that connects researchers, technology companies, solar developers, landowners, farmers and consumers.

“Federal energy planners estimate that utility-scale solar installations could cover almost 2 million acres of land in the United States by 2030,” said Stacie Peterson, Ph.D., director of NCAT’s energy programs.

“Under traditional solar development, these lands could be taken over for energy-only production and this could lead to negative impacts on food production,” Peterson said. “However, there is tremendous opportunity for low-impact solar development that is complementary with sustainable agriculture, increasing pollinator habitat, improving soil health,  and  promoting native species, all while diversifying revenue streams for both agricultural and solar operations.”

“NCAT’s decades of experience in sustainable energy and agriculture will enable the group to work as an honest broker of co-location information,” said Peterson.

“Together, with our incredible network of partners, we hope to help promote the co-location of solar and agriculture in a way that is beneficial to both throughout the United States and territories.”

National Renewable Energy Laboratory researchers Jordan Macknick and Paul Torcelini along with UMass professor Stephen Herbert survey the test plot at the UMass Crop Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield, MA.
— Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL 53126

ASC will showcase and develop practical, affordable solar-energy solutions through research, success stories, case studies, and multi-media outreach. The project will also connect participants through an online forum, mailing list, workshops and farm tours to facilitate peer-to-peer exchanges and mentoring.

ASC also will have databases that help locate financial and technical assistance, as well as identify best practices, explain regulatory issues and provide policy information.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) of the U.S. Department of Energy will provide a three-year, $1.6 million cooperative agreement to help fund the project. The total budget of the project for three years is $2,030,000.

NCAT has a number of partners in the project, including Argonne National Laboratory, Bozeman Green Build, Breezy Point Energy, Center for Rural Affairs, Fresh Energy Center for Pollinators in Energy, George Washington University, Helical Solar Solutions, Montana Renewable Energy Association, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Renewable Northwest, Ridge to Reefs, Seeta Sistla, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Virginia Working Landscapes, and Wexus Technologies.

ASC is expected go live in the summer of 2021.

The SETO program provided a total of $130 million in fiscal year 2020 for projects that improve the affordability, reliability, and value of solar technologies on the U.S. power grid.

NCAT’s project is one of four that focus on siting solar-energy systems in agricultural settings. The four projects were funded at a total of $7 million. Their aim is to help farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural enterprises gain value from solar technologies while keeping land available for agricultural purposes.

NCAT is a national nonprofit, founded in 1976, with a mission of helping people build resilient communities through local and sustainable solutions that reduce poverty, strengthen self-reliance, and protect natural resources.

It is headquartered in Butte, Mont., and has five regional offices around the country.

NCAT’s team of 35 sustainable agriculture specialists and energy engineers, along with its partners, will develop the clearinghouse. NCAT will develop alternate funding streams to ensure ASC will continue after the three-year funding period.

As we celebrate Earth Day 2020, the Earth looks and feels quite different than it normally does. This year marks the 50th celebration of Earth Day and the COVID-19 pandemic, has drastically impacted our physical, social, and economic worlds. Even so, people are banding together and finding a “new normal,” — one that demonstrates resilience. We can still pursue our projects and initiatives, though; we just need to do it differently. And, at least for now, our communication must be virtual.

Energy Corps AmeriCorps members have quickly adapted their service, exemplifying this resilience. Earth Day is an important event, one than typically involves a wide range of events and activities planned and carried out by members. In the face of physical distancing and shelter-in-place orders, members have refocused their efforts to embrace creative virtual opportunities.

For example, Alli Kane, Energy and Climate Educator in Missoula, has taken an artistic approach to increasing awareness and getting people excited about Earth Day. Earth Day Art 4 All is a community art project led by Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate, and anyone with a creative itch can join. Alli encourages people to create Earth Day-related art to display outside their home, such as banners, window art, or sidewalk chalk drawings. Participants can send a photo of their art to alli@climatesmartmissoula.org and those submissions will be used to produce a virtual art show. The broad theme of this art project is “Healthy People, Healthy Community, Healthy Plant,” but get creative and show your love for our planet in any way you choose. Visit their website for more information.

Robin Adams, Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Red Lodge, is dedicating an entire week to celebrate Earth Day by hosting daily virtual activities and tours. The week’s activities include a Solar Q&A with experts Henry Dykema of Sundance Solar Systems and Andrew Valainis of the Montana Renewable Energy Association; a Critter and Plant Hunt using iNaturalist social networking site; a Beartooth Passive Home Live Tour; and a Community Movie Night. Visit their website to learn how you can get involved.

Red Lodge Schedule

The event schedule for Earth Week in Red Lodge.

Maia Madrid, Electric Vehicle Outreach Coordinator for the Department of Environmental Quality, has created a visual interview graphic series that displays feedback from Electric Vehicle (EV) owners. A part of Maia’s service is to develop this project and provide insight into driving and buying EVs. There are only four car dealerships in Montana that sell EVs and she is working to expand awareness of this sustainable transportation technology. The visual interview project will be launched in honor of Earth Day, and you can check it out on their website.​

charge ahead

An excerpt from the interview graphic series.

Check out these and other virtual events and get involved!

We want to thank Energy Corps and their host-site organizations for so eloquently transitioning regular programming to an online outlet. The motivation, dedication, and creativity displayed by this group is inspirational during these uncertain times. Other organizations are providing opportunities to be involved in the festivities, like the National Park Foundation providing virtual park tours, as well as Earth Day Live events found on the official Earth Day website. What better way to recognize that we, as a collective, can be resilient to hardship and therefore able to collectively revive the health of our planet and its people.