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Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

The increasing influence of renewable energy on the farming industry has entered legislation in the U.S., with Senators passing two bills this year for priority solar projects. Agrivoltaics utilizes land for agriculture and solar energy generation, wherein livestock graze around solar panels.

The Senate bills—the Pollinator Power Act and the Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act—would form a relationship between solar panels and agricultural resources. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the relationship creates a symbiotic cooling environment with shade, reducing the amount of evaporated water in the soil and the water vapor from plants increasing panel efficiency.

Renewable energy projects are at the forefront of the Biden Administration’s push for zero-net emissions by 2050. Agrivoltaics, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Futures Study, can increase land productivity by 70%.

By 2050, ground-based solar will require roughly 0.5% of land in the contiguous United States—agriculture occupies almost 43% of the lower 48 states’ surface area, according to the USDA.

As California’s leader in solar and wind energy production, Kern County was granted $33 million from the Department of Energy to support various low-carbon projects. However, the various projects included in the funding agreement do not include agrivoltaic research.

The DOE also introduced $8 million in funding for the Foundational Agrivoltaic Research for Megawatt Scale program in projects across six states. Less than 2% of solar energy projects in the U.S. are co-located with crops, according to the Department of Energy.

Recent funding allotted to Pitzer College in Claremont, California by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research will prioritize regenerative farming practices combined with solar energy production. According to an FFAR press release, the research team received over $1 million in funding to assess the impact of agrivoltaics on crop production, soil health, and economic benefits.

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