The baa-ounty of solar:  When solar and agriculture go hand-in-hand

At nearly 2 gigawatts of solar power, North Carolina recently surpassed Arizona to rank second in the nation for installed solar capacity. This week, a video from SELC’s Stories of Solar series features one of the many North Carolina solar success stories, one that shows how agriculture and solar power can go hand-in-hand.   

Renee Westmoreland and her family operate a local farm in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Renee has been a North Carolina probation officer for 20 years, and her husband Kevin is a Mount Airy Police Officer. But at home, and with the help of their two teenage sons, Colt and Reese, the Westmorelands are farmers. The family raises cattle, goats, and sheep, and the farm has grown quickly in recent years. Two years ago, they were running out of space to graze their livestock, but they soon found a new way to have more space for grazing and to earn some additional income for their farm.

The Westmorelands are one of seventeen families currently partnering with Sun-Raised Farms, a collection of family farmers from across North Carolina who graze sheep at large solar farms, spanning approximately 50 solar projects. Sun-Raised farms began six years ago, when O2 Energies was looking to build a 20-acre solar farm in Bunn, North Carolina. Local farmer Chad Ray, of Ray Family Farms, saw an opportunity to not only support clean energy, but also to keep the solar farm property in pasture land. Ray reached an agreement with Joel Olsen, of O2 Energies, that provided Ray with extra income and land for grazing his sheep at the O2 Energies solar farm, in exchange for maintaining the property and keeping grass low around the panels, without the need for gas-powered lawn mowers.

The project was so successful that it led to the start of Sun-Raised Farms. The Sun-Raised project shows how solar farms and sheep can be a winning arrangement for local farmers, businesses, and ratepayers, as well as for our clean air and water. Solar farm land is put to multiple uses and benefits, becoming a place to also raise sheep and crops, in addition to capturing the clean, renewable power of the sun.

It’s not just North Carolina farmers who can benefit from solar power. In Georgia, for example, Will Harris of White Oak Pastures has used solar power to help his farm become more sustainable and self-sufficient. Solar not only provides a source of energy to power operations—it also supplements the farm’s income and cuts expenses.

These farmers show what’s possible when agriculture and clean energy work together, in North Carolina and across the Southeast.

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