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Solar Meets Sheep (and Bees, and More)

Agrivoltaics brings ag and solar together on the same land. It's an emerging solution that could be coming soon to the Hudson Valley.

by Lynn Freehill-Maye
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The second word in “solar farm” can sound like a misnomer. Often solar panels sit on former agricultural land, but aren’t what we’d otherwise think of as a farm.

Agrivoltaics aims to change that by hosting PV panels and agriculture on the exact same land. Often, livestock like sheep graze under the solar panels. Sometimes the projects include pollinator habitat as well, which can benefit biodiversity, honey production or adjacent pollinator-dependent crops. And trials are being done growing shaded crops under raised panels, too.

Sheep graze among solar panels in Central New York (Photo: American Solar Grazing Association)

The agrivoltaics concept — also called dual-use solar, or when livestock are involved, solar grazing — is being successfully expanded elsewhere. That includes in our neighborhood of the Northeast (Massachusetts, the Finger Lakes). While it isn’t yet being done at scale in the Hudson Valley, for a range of reasons, interest among farmers and developers is growing.

“When solar’s done right, it can contribute to farm viability. It benefits biodiversity, it benefits pollinators — these larger goals of conservation are coming together,” says Lexie Hain, co-founder of the American Solar Grazing Association. “I’m hopeful this is beginning of a revolution of intelligent co-design.”

The association, formed in rural Ithaca in 2018, has been expanding. Hain has spoken at conferences as nearby as Albany, last January, and as far away (at least virtually) as Europe this fall. She’s aware that land values and terrain are different in the Finger Lakes than near the Hudson River, and that viewsheds are parsed carefully here, too. But she says, “I would love to see it happen in the Hudson Valley. I’m not going to rule it out.”

In some corners of the valley, finding shepherds close enough to a solar project to viably transport sheep from their home farm is the challenge. Nexamp is a developer with community solar arrays in the valley. It currently grazes 2 solar sites in New York State. The advantages to developers like Nexamp can be big: fewer panels damaged by rocks and mowers, reduced vegetation maintenance costs, and more community acceptance.

A sheep arrives to graze a solar site in Central New York (Photo: American Solar Grazing Association)

Next year the company will expand to grazing 12 N.Y. grazing projects, communication manager Keith Hevenor says — but none are local. “For us it’s really about finding the appropriate local farmer who’s willing and able to travel within the distance required,” Hevenor says. “It’s really just a proximity thing.”

Geographic tools have been developed to help it happen. The American Solar Grazing Association recently launched a kind of “matchmaking” tool to help sheep farmers find nearby solar developers, and vice versa.

Scenic Hudson, for its part, is eager to see agrivoltaics emerge as a win-win solution in carefully sited projects. The organization’s Solar Mapping Tool and Renewable Energy Siting Guide provide guidance for bringing it along. “These kinds of techniques can be a real solution and align agricultural policy with renewable energy policy,” says Audrey Friedrichsen, land use and environmental advocacy attorney at Scenic Hudson. “We want to see the transition to renewable energy accelerated with smart planning, because climate change is the issue of our time.”

Despite the delay compared to other areas from North Carolina to Illinois, agricultural observers like Sam Calhoun, FARM Program associate at the Columbia Land Conservancy, believe agrivoltaics is coming our way. The conservancy recently held a Solar Grazing webinar that attracted 25 participants interested in learning what the concept was all about.

“We’re aware of this and looking at it as something we’re going to be seeing more of,” Calhoun says. “We’re trying to stay ahead of it rather than having to play catch-up.”

Lynn Freehill-Maye is managing editor of Scenic Hudson’s HV Viewfinder. She is also a Hudson Valley-based sustainability writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Scientific American, Sierra, Civil Eats, CityLab, Modern Farmer and beyond.

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Hudson Valley Viewfinder is a collaborative, community digital magazine sharing what inspires us about the beautiful Hudson Valley. We publish original stories and multimedia content about all things sustainable in the region along the Hudson River — including agriculture, science, wildlife, outdoor recreation, green transportation, environmental justice, and more.

Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
  • Writers, photographers, and creatives, if you have an idea for a series or content campaign that might be a good fit, drop us a line!

Businesses, please note that as a nonprofit, Scenic Hudson is restricted from advertising or promoting for-profit companies, through Viewfinder or other outlets. While we understand content managers may wish to alert us to your company’s role in a relevant topic, we are unable to add links to businesses to our stories.

  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
  • Writers, photographers, and creatives, if you have an idea for a series or content campaign that might be a good fit, drop us a line!

Businesses, please note that as a nonprofit, Scenic Hudson is restricted from advertising or promoting for-profit companies, through Viewfinder or other outlets. While we understand content managers may wish to alert us to your company’s role in a relevant topic, we are unable to add links to businesses to our stories.

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