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How Jack’s Solar Garden Hopes To Transform Farming—For Good

The Boulder County solar farm uses an emerging concept called agrivoltaics to make more money off the land. But that's just the start.

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Sorry, Farmers’ Almanac; Byron Kominek is harnessing something more high-tech to revitalize his family’s 24-acre Boulder County farm. Called agrivoltaics, it calls for installing solar panels over crops to generate both electricity and a harvest. Here’s how Jack’s Solar Garden, the nation’s largest produce-producing agrivoltaics site, adds up.

300: Approximate number of homes Jack’s Solar Garden will power with its 3,276 solar panels, covering five acres of the property. Kominek plans to use the other 19 acres as an experimental site for agroforestry, a method of planting crops between rows of trees or shrubs (and possibly throwing livestock in the mix) to reduce soil erosion.

40: Types of plants that will be sowed under the array. The panels’ shade can create cooler, more humid microclimates, and scientists want to know if those pockets can sustain crops prone to withering in arid Colorado. To find out, researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden will monitor how tomatoes, blackberries, herbs, and more fare.

$327,600: Highest possible solar power revenue Jack’s Solar Garden could generate per year. Interested buyers choose how many kilowatt-hours of energy they need (and for how long) and pay an upfront, one-time fee. In return, Xcel Energy gives them a credit on monthly electricity bills. Kominek hopes the extra cash paired with crop sales can be a model for other small farmers struggling to get in the black.

3,000: Trees, shrubs, and other pollinator-friendly plants along the outer edge of the field. Kominek called in the Audubon Rockies to establish what it calls a “Habitat Heroes” garden: an inviting environment for bees, butterflies, and species of native birds facing habitat destruction in Colorado.

70%: Potential increase in crop production. A 2018 study revealed that soil under solar panels retained moisture longer and vegetation used water more efficiently. NREL also found that in very arid places, like Arizona, the crops cool down the tech, letting the panels generate up to three percent more energy during the summer.

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