Through this partnership, AFT will use its Smart Solar principles to lend expertise and guidance to Lightstar on policy innovation, research and farmer engagement to accelerate agriculturally compatible solar energy development, strengthen farm viability and safeguard land well-suited for farming and ranching. Lightstar aims to empower farmers to transition to more regenerative agricultural practices and adopt agrivoltaic solar — integrated farming and solar — in states such as New York, Maryland and Illinois.
There are compounding threats to farmland across the country. Between 2001 and 2016, residential and commercial development consumed 11 million acres of agricultural land. Another 18 million acres could succumb by 2040 in a business-as-usual scenario. Climate change and extreme weather events makes farming and ranching more challenging, with AFT’s research showing a significant swath of rainfed agricultural land will be less likely to support current growing systems by 2040. Additionally, the United States is in the middle of a historic intergenerational transfer as millions of acres of farmland change hands as today’s senior farmers retire, making it vulnerable to development.
“We have a responsibility as solar developers to not just move swiftly towards the clean energy transition, but we must also take seriously the land impacts our projects can have,” said Lucy Bullock-Seiger, VP of strategy at Lightstar. “Solar does not need to exacerbate farmland loss, and our partnership with American Farmland Trust demonstrates our commitment to land stewardship and most importantly to keep farmers farming.”
Agrivoltaics offer a means to address these threats. The transition to renewable energy is necessary to help address climate change. Agrivoltaics allow for farming and energy production to co-exist, keeping farmland in farming. The agrivoltaics model can decrease water usage and improve soil health while promoting economic growth within local communities through farm viability, energy bill savings and job creation, driving the clean energy economy of tomorrow. AFT’s Smart Solar principles aim to accelerate the generation of solar energy but offer a blueprint for solar development that maximizes climate mitigation while minimizing impact on productive farmland and strengthening opportunities for farmers.
“The agriculture industry has a pivotal opportunity to accelerate its clean energy transition, while enhancing farm and food security,” said Ethan Winter, AFT’s national Smart Solar director. “We are excited to partner with Lightstar on this journey to unlock opportunities from agrivoltaics.”
Lightstar’s dual-use solar projects allow for energy production in addition to crop cultivation and livestock grazing in and around the solar array. Farm owners hosting these projects earn a long-term and regular stream of income and farmers managing the agricultural operation receive a stipend to keep the land in production. These projects also provide tax revenue for local municipalities, help residents reduce their energy bills and increase energy independence and grid security. AFT provides agricultural landowners with the tools and skills to make informed decisions about solar development.