PITTSBORO, N.C. — Miraverse Power and Light, Piedmont Biofuels, Southern Energy Management and Piedmont Biofarm have launched a "Solar Double Cropping" project in Pittsboro.
The companies had a ribbon cutting on Nov. 4 for the endeavor which consists of an elevated 92.16 kilowatt solar array that generates electricity above the north field of Piedmont Biofarm, while sustainable produce is harvested on the ground. The nine-foot clearance of the solar photovoltaic system is designed to grow crops that thrive in partial shade.
“Double Cropping is a term we borrowed from the wind industry,” said Lyle Estill, co-founder of Piedmont Biofuels, and originator of the project. “We intend to demonstrate the ability to make electricity and grow food in the same space at the same time.”
Estill said in some jurisdictions, solar installations are being banned on prime farmland. “We need clean energy. And we need sustainable food,” Estill said. “This installation will enable both.”
Michael and Amy Tiemann, who run Manifold Recording —a world-class production facility in Chatham County, financed the project. “The vision for this facility has always been based around sustainability. When we began calculating the energy required to run this facility, we simultaneously envisioned how we could fit that into an overall sustainability plan,” Tiemann said. “Of all the options we considered, solar double-cropping was far and away the simplest, fastest, and best approach to meeting our energy needs without diminishing the rich agricultural potential of Chatham County. What good is sustainable energy without sustainable agriculture?”
Michael Tiemann also sits of the Board of Advisors for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and has a keen interest in both renewable energy and local food. He created Miraverse Power and Light as an entity for this endeavor.
Doug Jones, the owner of Piedmont Biofarm, has been experimenting with partial shade crops for the past two growing seasons and will be farming beneath the array. "As our agricultural zone changes,” Jones said, “there are some vegetables that will benefit from some protection from the sun.”
Southern Energy Management (SEM), a Morrisville company known for utility-scale solar arrays, installed the 288-panel system. “We love this project because it challenges us to think about land use, climate change and where our food comes from, all at the same time,” said Maria Kingery, co-founder of SEM. “This is the kind of project that made us want to get into the solar business in the first place and we hope to see many more projects like this in the future.”
This Solar Double Cropping project represents two years of planning, design and engineering that resulted in a formal docket assignment by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.