Op-Ed: Solar Development Can Be Key in New Jersey’s Recovery

State solar policies should allow for and incentivize the dual-use land management concept, where agriculture and solar can coexist
Eric Graber-Lopez

With COVID-19 continuing to spread across the country, we are facing unprecedented economic and societal challenges as we make efforts to protect public health and save lives. But while the future impacts of the coronavirus are still uncertain, our leaders are rightly thinking about how we can recover once the worst is over. Even amid great hardship, there is opportunity to rebuild in innovative ways and once again bring about economic prosperity.

When it comes to New Jersey’s recovery, the clean-energy industry can play a crucial role as it has the potential to not only create jobs and but also more broadly stimulate the economy beyond the energy sector. In particular, exciting opportunities are emerging for renewable- energy firms to work with the agriculture community to find ways to financially support farms while creating a clean-energy future.

One of the most exciting opportunities can be found in dual-use solar development. Dual-use is a new approach to solar development that allows agriculture and solar to coexist symbiotically on the same plot of land. Dual-use solar takes a holistic approach to large-scale development, incorporating solar designs and management principles that build healthy soil, restore habitat, and promote farming within an array. Properly spaced and elevated solar panels can create enough space below for animals to graze or crops such as blueberries, cranberries, squash and leafy greens to grow.

The benefits of dual-use solar include:

  • Financial: the lease payments for the land used for solar development will provide a dependable and steady source of revenue for farmers.
  • Agricultural: farming can continue, and in many cases be enhanced, on land that may otherwise be converted to permanent development or standard solar.
  • Sustainability: adding solar to the grid will help New Jersey achieve its clean-energy goals.
  • Viable farming future: dual-use farms create new opportunities to train and employ the next generation of farmers.

The technology and expertise already exist to make dual-use the gold standard for sustainable solar development across the Northeast and beyond. Dual-use has proven to be successful in states like Massachusetts, Maine and Colorado, which have already adopted dual-use initiatives. In Massachusetts, there is an estimated 100 megawatts of dual-use under various stages of development, with the first projects aiming to plant crops this year.

New Jersey is well positioned to embrace this innovative land management concept. State solar policies need updating to allow for and to incentivize dual-use so that the full range of its benefits can be realized. Experts in the fields of dual-use, agriculture, conservation and solar from other states are ready to inform New Jersey on policy changes and program designs.

Dual-use solar will provide the agriculture industry with the necessary financial stability to remain resilient in times of economic uncertainty. Supporting our farmers will be key to post-COVID economic recovery, and renewable-energy generation can make that possible, while also creating jobs and promoting a healthier environment. That’s a win for New Jersey and the nation overall.