USDA Officials Tout Solar Projects in Minnesota
An agrivoltaic project underway at Connexus Energy’s HQ in Ramsey, Minnesota

USDA Officials Tout Solar Projects in Minnesota

Speaking at the Minnesota State Fair on Friday, a smattering of public and private sector leaders highlighted two “agrivoltaic” projects underway in the state.

Federal officials made a stop at the Minnesota State Fair on Friday to tout new pilot projects combining solar power and agriculture.

A smattering of leaders from the public and private sector were on hand to highlight two “agrivoltaic” projects underway in Minnesota. The term “agrivoltaic” refers to the combination of solar energy generation alongside farming. Beginning this summer, nonprofit organizations Great Plains Institute and Big River Farms launched the two projects: A one-megawatt array owned by Minneapolis-based US Solar in Big Lake, and another 245-kilowatt array owned by energy cooperative Connexus Energy in Ramsey.

Speaking at the Agriculture Horticulture Building on Friday, Brian Ross of the Great Plains Institute said that rural parts of the country are the “host community for the clean energy future.”

“Rural communities in Minnesota are the place where we have the bulk of our energy resources – our solar and wind energy reserves – as well as our agriculture system,” said Ross, who serves as VP of renewable energy at the institute. “This is something that we need to marry in a way that makes sense, and is done in a way that is respectful and in partnership with our communities.”

The USDA's Clare Sierawski speaks in the Agriculture Horticulture Building at the Minnesota State Fair on Friday, Aug. 25.
The USDA’s Clare Sierawski speaks in the Agriculture Horticulture Building at the Minnesota State Fair on Friday, Aug. 25.

The work isn’t necessarily unique to Minnesota; there are plenty of other agrivoltaic projects underway in other parts of the country. What makes the Minnesota projects unique is that researchers will study them to determine best practices for future agrivoltaic projects, officials said.

Minnesota’s Office of Emerging Farmers is also participating in the effort. Officials said that the projects have a second goal: broadening access to farmland for newer farmers. Minnesota is the first state in the nation to establish such an office within its Department of Agriculture. Ross of the Great Plains Institute noted that the intent is to “document safe and scalable practices that enable farmland access to emerging farmers.”

Clare Sierawski, a senior energy counselor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said it’s a “pivotal” time in the energy and agriculture industries. She pointed back to farmers’ formation of rural electric cooperatives in the 1930s – efforts that helped bring electricity to most Americans’ homes, she said. Sierawski referred to these efforts as “the great energy get-together,” playing off the State Fair’s motto as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together.”

“There was growing disparity between quality of life in city and quality of life in rural areas, and access to electricity was at the heart of that disparity,” Sierawski said.

Facing a warming climate and growing energy costs, Sierawski said that we’re in a similarly pivotal time today. Plus, regulations are rapidly catching up. Last year, the Minnesota Legislature mandated that all energy must be from carbon-free sources by 2040.

The agrivoltaic projects in Minnesota are funded by the Mortenson Family Foundation, as well as dollars from Congress’s Inflation Reduction Act last year.

The groups are running a demonstration of the agrivoltaic projects inside the Agriculture Horticulture Building throughout the fair.