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Gerry Palano

Gerry Palano

Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Coordinator, Department of Agricultural Resources

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Sometimes competing interests can cultivate innovation. With demand for fresh, locally grown and raised foods increasing in recent years for consumer supported agriculture (CSAs), farmers markets, farm stand sales, and local food offerings in our restaurants and supermarkets, there is also an increase in demand to preserve local rich and fertile farm land. At the same time, demand for clean energy systems, such as ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) systems, means an increased need for local land resources, sometimes those very same rich and fertile lands.

The acknowledgement of these competing interests has led to some creative and cost-effective solutions including one in South Deerfield. Several local design-build PV installation firms, including Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, PV2, Moss Hollow, Cotuit Solar and Nexamp, work with farms and DAR when integrating ground-mounted PV systems on farms. These systems are placed either on non food-producing or marginal soils or on dedicated centralized towers or sloping roof structures that allow land use underneath or can also serve as storage facilities.

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UMass Amherst’s Agronomy Lab (the Crop and Animal Research and Education Center Farm in South Deerfield) hopes to further these efforts by demonstrating and studying a different tactic – mounting PV on “traditional” field racking but with columns high enough and spaced apart enough to allow room underneath and adequate sunlight penetration for animal grazing and the raising of crops.

As proposed to DAR’s FY2011 AgEnergy Grant Program by Professor Stephen J. Herbert, Ph.D., Director for the UMass Extension Center for Agriculture, the 70-panel, 16.45 kilowatt PV project's purpose is three-fold. First, it examines and documents the results of implementing ground-mounted solar energy technology on farm land while simultaneously producing a crop. It also is designed to produce an electric power source to offset power usage at the research farm. Finally, the project will demonstrate how this type of PV can be implemented by a farm cost effectively.

Project measurements of ambient light levels and plant matter and economic analyses will provide a meaningful evaluation of plant growth effects and the benefits to farmers. The initial project started with 70 panels, but will expand to 106 panels to include additional innovations.

UMass Amherst raised funding for this effort from a combination of sources, including the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture, UMass Extension Center for Agriculture, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and DAR. Two private sector interests are also participating, including Berkshire Management Group Director Michael Lehan and David Marley, manager of Diversified Construction Services, LLC.

We’re thankful for UMass for its efforts to raise awareness about dual-use clean energy projects to preserve precious farm land and lead the way toward our clean energy future.

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