Climate change champions, Lexie Hain and Lewis Fox, plus the American Solar Grazing Association. And Germany’s energy villages!
Climate Change Champs– Lexie Hain & Lewis Fox, American Solar Grazing Association, Energy Villages?
CLIMATE CHANGE CHAMPIONS, LEXIE HAIN AND LEWIS FOX
Lexie Hain and Lewis Fox are the founding partners and daily managers of Agrivoltaic Solutions. It’s an agricultural grazing service. They bring sheep herds into solar farms for the purpose of maintain the vegetation in and around large solar arrays. Both Hain and Fox are experienced sheep farmers working.
Lexie brings farm management and renewables industry experience to the partnership. Lewis brings commercial livestock management and degree in animal science from Cornell. The firm works with community and utility scale developers and asset managers in New York, by partnering them with certain sheep farmers across the state.
The idea of forming the company came after Lexie sold her nursery business but still wanted to keep farming. She’d already been involved in her community to support renewable energy for about a decade, so when the opportunity arose, she took it.
That’s how she met Fox. He grew up on a dairy farm and was manager of a large dairy in western New York. In 2018 after Hain got a contract to graze a Cornell solar site. She needed extra sheep for the job, so they split the contract for the site. Soon after, they became business partners.
According to Fox, “From a solar owner standpoint, the sheep work really well. They’re sized right, they don’t throw rocks like a mower does, they’re not going to jump at the panels like a goat would. They won’t chew on the wires. The sheep are excellent because they like being under the panels during the day. They like hanging out there, and they’re very good at grazing into nooks and crannies.”
Sheep also provide added site security. They get underfoot, make noise when disturbed, and when the sheep herder checks their flock, well…
THE AMERICAN SOLAR GRAZING ASSOCIATION
Lexie Hain and Lewis Fox helped found the American Solar Grazing Association, a nonprofit devoted to educating farmers and solar installers on not only sheep grazing, but also agrivoltaics in general. Hain, the executive director, says the organization has 250 members nationwide. She does regular presentations to solar industry members and farmers.
According to an interview in American Agriculturist, Fox said, “It’s unbelievable how much interest there is in grazing solar panels, and there’s not a lot of people doing it right now. We’d love more people to get into it. It’s a really big opportunity.”
ASGA has worked with Pace Law School to develop solar grazing contracts and other materials for solar leasing.
Last year, the organization contracted with Ernst Conservation Seeds to develop Fuzz and Buzz, a seed mix developed specifically for sheep grazing sites. Most grass mixes have fescue (a long grass), Fox says, so they developed this mix for better palatability.
The organization also has developed Solar Grazing Map, an app that connects shepherds with solar developers.
“If you go to a solar site, and look for a sign on a gate, maybe there’s a number to call or not, it’s very hit or miss,” Hain says. “So the idea is that we wanted to build connections and forge trust, and also make people aware of this opportunity.”
Why does the American Solar Grazing Association matter to us? Ground mounted photovoltaics (PV) are expanding in size and number nationwide, and the most desirable sites for solar projects are often already in cropland.
Solar grazing keeps farmland in farm production.
GERMANY’S ENERGY VILLAGES
Soft-spoken, bespectacled, retired policeman Walter Falger and 24 others founded the Virtual Citizen Power Plant as a model project in 2017, in Schönau, situated in the Odenwald hills, 10 km northeast of Heidelberg, Germany. The group — among them, local farmers, stay-at-home moms, IT experts and artists — share the energy they need for their homes and offices.
In an interview with “Reasons to Be Cheerful,” fellow eco-rebel and project manager, project manager Frederik Penski says “We deliberately accepted applications from a very diverse range of people. Oldtimers and newbies, seniors and young couples, from very tech-savvy to tech-illiterate. The only thing they all have in common is the willingness to invest their time and efforts in this new model to achieve energy sovereignty.
Every household in the group contributes the renewable energy it collects — for instance, through solar panels or thermal power stations — to the virtual power plant. At any given time, every group member can see how much energy is available in this virtual plant, as well as how much they are producing and using, individually and collectively. They can then adjust their own energy consumption accordingly, first using as much green energy as they’re producing themselves; then, as much as has been made available by the other members; and finally, selling any left over back to the grid. If every member of the group chooses to do this, they are effectively drawing no electricity from the grid.
The Schönau is not alone. Neuerkirch and Külz are two small villages in Western Germany – of 300 and 500 souls respectively. Both villages abandoned their old fossil fuel heating system for a 100% renewable heating system – a biomass plant supplies 75% of the energy and a solar thermal plant provides for the rest. Only a few homes are not connected to the central system.
The two villages lie in the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which brands itself as a “pioneer” of the ‘Energiewende’. Apart from the biomass and solar plants, the region is also known for its wind farm. Local communities receive hundreds of thousands of euros annually for leasing their land to the turbines. The operators can afford to pay thanks to the feed-in tariff or other forms of national subsidy.
Neuerkirch mayor, Volker Wichter, recently told visiting journalists, “We are happy that we don’t have to be supplied by Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia,”