Heinrich, Braun Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Support Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration

Lightstar Renewables on the growth of community solar in the US, its challenges and implementing agriPV

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Podcast: A rosy future for agrivoltaics (and without the thorns)

Lucy Bullock-Sieger, vice president of strategy for developer Lightstar Renewables, joined Episode 46 of the Factor This! podcast to discuss a new approach to agrivoltaics.

Lucy Bullock-Sieger occasionally spots a tractor weaving around and under the arrays at a utility-scale solar project near her home in Norfolk, Massachusetts.

Few others would experience an emotional response to lawn mowing. But Bullock-Sieger does.

That’s because she’s a self-described evangelist of agrivoltaics—industry jargon for solar projects co-located with livestock or crops. Frustration builds when she sees a project ripe for dual-use that doesn’t qualify for agrivoltaics incentives under the Massachusetts policy framework.

“I am obsessed with scaling agrivoltaics,” Bullock-Sieger said on the Factor This! podcast. Her tone prevented any doubt of her conviction. “If we were to go with the Massachusetts model and the design requirements that they demand, nobody is going to adopt agrivoltaics.”


Massachusetts was a first mover on agrivoltaics with the launch of the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program in 2017. As with other trend-setters in clean energy deployment (see: California, rooftop solar), the Commonwealth positioned itself to become a template for the rest of the country. Would-be developers swooned at the thought of a 6-cent/kWh incentive for agrivoltaics.

Then came the details. The SMART program required arrays to be raised 8-10 ft. off the ground, depending on the agricultural function. It stipulated that no single square foot beneath an array could be shaded more than 50% at any given time.

Combined with a burdensome approval process, few projects in Massachusetts’ 80 MW agrivoltaics pipeline have been built. In order to meet the stringent policy requirements, the projects that were executed are “really ugly, over-built, highly-customized, and boutique-y,” Bullock-Sieger said. The added system costs don’t support scaling. These first projects in Massachusetts weren’t designed to support scaling.

Despite early challenges, Bullock-Sieger appears optimistic that a rosy future lies ahead for agrivoltaics, in part because her company, Lightstar Renewables, is throwing out everything you think you know about the sector.

Fresh approach

Bullock-Sieger’s agrivoltaics aha moment came on a visit to the 1.2 MW Jack’s Solar Garden in Longmont, Colorado.

Through partnerships with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Colorado State University, and the University of Arizona, Jack’s Solar Garden serves as an active research center and showcase for co-located solar and agriculture.

But you won’t find the 3,200 solar panels of the community solar farm vaulted high into the air; they are in fact not much higher than a traditional solar project. After three growing seasons, Jack’s has demonstrated that crops can flourish beneath arrays with minimal system customization.

“Jack’s is so beautiful. It literally looks like agriculture in concert with solar, and it doesn’t have to be 30-40% added cost,” Bullock-Sieger said.

Jack’s Solar Garden is a partner organization on the InSPIRE project and the largest commercially active agrivoltaics system in the United States. The 1.2-megawatt array generates enough power for more than 300 homes. Local nonprofits also use the space as pollinator habitat and to train young farmers, such as Brittany Staie, pictured here. Brittany was the farm manager at Jack’s Solar Garden before joining NREL as a research intern. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

Jack’s uses industry-standard one-in-portrait, single-axis trackers with array rows separated 16 ft. from pole to pole. Building the project to support agrivoltaics only cost around 5% more than a traditional system, Bullock-Sieger said.

The aha moment in Colorado led Lightstar Renewables to develop agrivoltaics projects whether or not state incentives are in place. While there is an added level of customization that can lengthen project timelines, Lightstar has found agrivoltaics development to be cost-neutral by incorporating equipment of a standard project.

While Lightstar embarked on this mission because they believed “it was the right thing to do,” Bullock-Sieger said they’ve benefited from heightened land owner interest, improved community relations, expedited permits from municipalities, and a workaround to the interconnection nightmare.

Today, Lightstar has 238 MW of agrivoltaics projects in development across seven states. Bullock-Sieger believes now is the time to share the opportunity with the rest of the industry.

“Seeing is believing,” Bullock-Sieger said. “It doesn’t have to be very difficult.”

Opportunity for improvement

New political leadership in Massachusetts brings with it optimism, for Bullock-Sieger, at least, that the SMART program can be improved. Other states, like New Jersey, are vying to take the lead with their own policies.

She doesn’t believe agrivoltaics needs a windfall of cash or a rich incentive structure to scale up successfully. Rather, a “nudge” would be enough, similar to how low-to-moderate income requirements are becoming commonplace in solar policies.

Tax structures that allow agrivoltaics projects to be classified as farmland would go along way in supporting deployment, Bullock-Sieger said. Some states, like Massachusetts and New Jersey, are already moving in that direction; so is New York, where legislation is pending.

Megawatt targets specifically tied to agrivoltaics, like community solar, would also help push the nascent segment into the mainstream.

“If you want to nudge the industry toward something, tax advantages are a really good way to do that,” Bullock-Sieger said. “It doesn’t have to be very difficult.”

John Engel

John is the Content Director for Renewable Energy World. For the past decade, John has worked as a journalist across various mediums — print, digital, radio, and television — covering sports, news, and politics. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina with his wife, Malia. Have a story idea or a pitch for Renewable Energy World? Email John at john.engel@clarionevents.com.

Resource Box Header Lightstar Renewables on the growth of community solar in the US, its challenges and implementing agriPV
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