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Here’s why 1,000 sheep on a Colorado solar farm will be a win-win

Denver-based Guzman Energy almost didn’t get approval for a solar farm it’s going to build in western Colorado, but when the wholesale power provider agreed to add irrigation to support 1,000 sheep and possibly host beehives, it then gained unanimous approval from Delta County, Colorado’s commissioners.

When Guzman Energy’s 80-megawatt (MW) Garnet Mesa Solar Project is complete, it will become Colorado’s largest agrivoltaic installation. The $80 million solar farm will sit on 383 acres and generate more than 194,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity annually, which is enough to power 18,000 homes. No construction date has yet been provided.

Electric cooperative Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) will directly purchase a portion of the energy produced by the solar farm, and Guzman Energy will offtake the rest as power supply to serve additional wholesale customers. It will enable DMEA to reach 20% local generation.

Agrivoltaics is defined as the use of land for solar power and agriculture together. An Oregon State University study published in 2019 found that “if less than 1% of agricultural land was converted to solar panels, it would be sufficient to fulfill global electric energy demand.” And the two things can indeed peacefully coexist.

The Denver Post notes:

Guzman Energy, which is working with Citra Power to build the solar farm, plans to spend about $1.5 million on landscaping and irrigation. Preliminary plans call for planting 590 trees and 1,440 shrubs.

Sheep and solar panels paired together are a win-win because the solar panels provide shade and shelter for the sheep, and the sheep keep the grass trimmed, so the solar farm owners don’t have to maintain the grass. Also, the sheep get to eat for free. (It’s a bit trickier with cows, though, because they’re bigger, so solar arrays would need to be taller and sturdier.)

Further, the shade the solar panels create reduces heat and light underneath, thus helping to save water. In the drought-hit US West, that’s another win.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the US Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office are running an ongoing agrivoltaics research project called Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems (InSPIRE), and it’s just completed its second phase of research.

Jordan Macknick, NREL’s lead energy-water-land analyst and principal investigator for the InSPIRE project, said in an August 18 NREL article:

Through our work, which spans multiple regions, configurations, and agricultural activities, we’ve seen so many initial promising results.

Now, our challenge is to figure out how to scale up and replicate these successes.

Photo: Solstice

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.