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

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, and U.S. Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research, are introducing the bipartisan Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act of 2023.

“Agrivoltaics keeps farmland in production, generates clean energy, and strengthens rural economies,” said Heinrich. “The systems offer producers a way to diversify their income and make their operations more resilient. I’m proud to be introducing this legislation alongside Senator Braun – to support agrivoltaics research and scale these systems on farmlands from the Southwest to the Midwest."

“When we can help farmers and producers get more income out of their croplands, it’s a win,” said Braun. “This bill will research agrivoltaics – solar panel systems that can be deployed over crops that can benefit from partial shading during the day – and how they can help farmers get more out of their fields.”

Agrivoltaics, or the colocation of solar panels on agricultural land producing crops or livestock, is a small but growing market for solar energy deployment and agricultural producers looking to diversify their incomes. Agrivoltaic systems are an important tool in our toolbox to meet clean energy deployment goals while helping to maintain strong agriculture-based rural economies.

Agrivoltaic systems offer multiple benefits for farmers and solar installations. For example, some crops grown beneath solar panels can benefit from partial shading during the hottest part of the day—thereby requiring less water and offering improved yields. Solar panels placed above crops may have improved performance due to the local cooling effects of crops and reduced maintenance costs due to the limited need for mowing.

Interest in agrivoltaics is growing at all levels. Farmers and solar developers are installing agrivoltaic systems in different environments and with different crops and livestock. Universities, states, and the federal government are all investing in agrivoltaics research. States are also experimenting with incentives for agrivoltaic systems.

More research and analysis is needed to establish best practices for agrivoltaic system design and deployment in different regions across the country. Senators Heinrich and Braun are introducing the Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act of 2023 to help fill in these gaps and support farmers, ranchers, rural communities, and solar developers expand the deployment of agrivoltaic systems.

Specifically, the Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act of 2023:

  • Directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct a study that reviews current research and identifies research gaps related to agrivoltaic systems, including on the regional compatibility of different livestock and crops with agrivoltaic system designs; economic scalability across different agricultural land types and production systems; scaling agrivoltaics in ways consistent with keeping land in production, increasing economic opportunity for rural communities, and enhancing biodiversity; and ways to better incorporate agrivoltaics into existing federal programs.
  • Directs USDA to develop a regulatory definition of “agrivoltaic system” that can be used to incorporate agrivoltaics into relevant existing federal programs.
  • Establishes a research and demonstration network through the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in multiple regions across the country to investigate how agrivoltaics can increase agricultural productivity and profitability, enhance agricultural resilience, protect biodiversity, and increase economic opportunities for rural communities. ARS will collaborate with USDA Climate Hubs and extension programs to translate research findings into educational and actionable technical assistance materials for farmers and ranchers.
  • Authorizes funding for this network at $15 million per year for fiscal years 2024 – 2028.

The Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act of 2023 has received widespread support, including from the American Farmland Trust, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Lightstar Renewables, New Mexico State University, and Purdue University.

“AFT applauds Senator Heinrich and Senator Braun for their forward-thinking leadership in introducing this bill,” said Tim Fink, Policy Director for American Farmland Trust. “As the transition toward renewable energy accelerates across the country, it must be done in a way that strengthens rural communities and protects our most productive farmland. This legislation would help advance the potential for agrivoltaics to do both.”

“NSAC is gratified to see bipartisan support for further development of agrivoltaic systems,” said Cathy Day, Climate Policy Coordinator at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Combining solar panels with productive farmland in a shared space achieves renewable energy production and improved agricultural resilience all at once. Research demonstrates that variable shade for livestock and plants provides substantial benefits, making agrivoltaics an all-around win for farmers and for renewable energy. Further research will continue to refine these systems for multiple forms of farm production.”

“We don’t have to lose farmland in order to secure energy independence. Agrivoltaics is rapidly growing as producers, local leaders, and utilities realize the synergistic benefits of having clean, domestic energy integrated with agricultural production,” said Lucy Bullock-Sieger, Vice President of Strategy for Lightstar Renewables. “Lightstar Renewables applauds the bipartisan work of Senator Heinrich and Senator Braun in introducing The Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act of 2023. With the rapid growth of agrivoltaics beginning to outpace local and state regulations, Lightstar Renewables and our partners look forward to continuing to work with the Senators to add regulatory certainty and consistency for the agrivoltaic industry and support new opportunities for robust deployment."

“As the state’s land-grant university, New Mexico State University (NMSU) has a strong interest in the development of agrivoltaics to support our agricultural producers,” said New Mexico State University Interim Chancellor Jay Gogue. “This legislation on agrivoltaic systems is a critical component in a comprehensive strategy to increase the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of agriculture through the integration of solar energy production with agricultural efficiencies. As such, NMSU strongly supports the Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act of 2023 and believes that it will assist New Mexico agricultural producers in adapting to challenges related to food, energy, and water systems.”

"We appreciate Sen. Braun and Sen. Heinrich introducing the Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act, which addresses research and demonstration needs around agrivoltaic systems to better understand how solar energy and agriculture can coexist. Purdue University researchers in both agriculture and engineering are already leaders in this area and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to solve food, agricultural and energy production challenges," said Dr. Karen Plaut, Executive Vice President for Research, Purdue University.