SOUTH DEERFIELD — Local legislators visited the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Center on Monday morning to see for themselves how new technology can be married to the ancient tradition of agriculture.
State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, was joined by state Reps. Natalie M. Blais, D-Sunderland, and Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, at 89 River Road, where representatives from Hyperion Systems LLC spoke of the compatibility of solar photovoltaics and farm production. The site is home to 106 solar panels producing 16.8 kilowatts of renewable energy as part of a photovoltaic dual-use research project aimed at growing crops and generating electricity.
Hyperion is a partner of the research and education center. Based in Amherst, it produces solar power systems that allow for the dual use of land. The dual-use concept is billed as providing two benefits to farmers: greatly reducing the farm’s electrical expenses by eliminating the purchase of power from the local electric company, and allowing farmers to increase revenues by selling the excess power generated back to the electric company.
“I have a deep interest, and so do my constituents, in Class I renewables, like solar. And I believe that we can do both — we can support our farmers and usher in a green revolution,” Comerford said. “And arrays like these mounted solar panels on a farm would allow farmers to generate an income from their land and grow the food that they love to grow.
“This has the potential to be a win-win,” she said.
Blais said she has always been interested in learning more about environmentally friendly farming and she is fascinated that this type of project is happening in her backyard.
“Our farmers really care about the land and this is one way that they can also care about the environment,” she said.
Jake Marley, co-owner and manager of Hyperion Systems, spoke to the legislators and roughly 10 other people near the arrays before the party went inside for a presentation by Marley and colleague Michael Lehan.
Marley explained the panels were installed about 7½ feet off the ground in 2010. This helps keep the panels cooler, as they lose efficiency for every degree in temperature above 77 degrees. With the panels above the ground, they also interfere less with on-ground activities.The installation will also withstand 100 mph winds.
Marley said shaded and unshaded plots of broccoli, Swiss chard, kale and peppers were transplanted underneath the array on June 7, 2016. Common beans and cabbages were planted as second summer crops, though the cabbages failed due to 2016’s heat and drought. The other crops, according to the presentation, grew successfully that year. The leaf temperature was 15 degrees cooler under the photovoltaic panels, Marley explained, contributing to higher yields.
Marley also said the site’s livestock coexist in harmony with the solar panels.
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