Co-Location of Agriculture and Solar PV

Jordan Macknick, NREL

Site preparation costs for large-scale solar projects are expected to account for 20 percent of large-scale solar PV installed costs in 2020. Reducing these costs via low-impact development can lead to cascading reductions in other environmental-related costs and risks — and provide important co-benefits to agriculture.

A long-time agricultural leader and the fourth-largest agricultural exporting state in the U.S., Minnesota is scaling from less than 20 megawatts of solar capacity statewide in early 2016 to 700-1,000 megawatts by late 2017.

Fresh Energy hosted Jordan Macknick from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) for an update on research and work related to co-location of agriculture and solar. Mr. Macknick is the lead analyst on InSPIRE—Innovative Site Preparation and Impact Reductions on the Environment—a three-year study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The objective of InSPIRE is to demonstrate opportunities for cost reductions and higher levels of deployment of solar technologies through low environmental impact designs and approaches. The project will provide a comprehensive assessment of baseline costs, cost reduction strategies, and environmental impact reduction strategies for solar technologies in three areas:

  • Low-impact site preparation practices for ground mounted solar projects
  • Siting solar projects on contaminated and marginal lands
  • Co-locating solar projects on agricultural lands

InSPIRE will measure reductions to existing site preparation costs such as geotechnical investigation, clearing, and grading as well as other cost categories:


Minnesota has already taken an important step related to co-location of agriculture and solar energy generation. Authored by agriculture leaders Representative Rod Hamilton (R–Mountain Lake) and Senator Dan Sparks (DFL–Austin), and with support from Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Minnesota Farmers Union, Fresh Energy, Audubon Minnesota, and a coalition of agricultural, business, and conservation leaders, Minnesota has established a statewide standard for pollinator-friendly solar.

Solar sites with a mix of flowering forbs and deep-rooted native grasses are beneficial to the pollinators necessary for crops and improve the quality of agricultural soils.


  • David Strom, Executive Director, Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum
  • Michael Noble, Executive Director, Fresh Energy
  • Rob Davis, Director, Fresh Energy (PDF of presentation)
  • Jordan Macknick, Energy and Environmental Analyst, Strategic Energy Analysis Center at NREL (PDF of presentation)


Site preparation costs for large-scale solar projects are expected to account for 20 percent of large-scale solar PV installed costs

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