Pittsboro farm growing food and power

September 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm 2 comments

NOTE:  The ribbon cutting has been re-scheduled to Nov. 4 at 4 p.m. 

Farmer Doug Jones is famous for growing peppers that thrive in the Piedmont. Lyle Estill is famous for producing biofuel from recycled vegetable oil. The two often trade brainstorms over at the Eco Industrial Park in Pittsboro NC, where Jones runs Piedmont Biofarm, Estill concocts new schemes at Piedmont Biofuels, and food and energy projects often feed each other.

Lyle got to wondering if they could grow both food and electrical power at the park, on the same piece of land.  What if they erected an array of solar collectors high enough off the ground that food could be grown in the partial shade beneath them? They will soon get a chance to find out, as their solar double-cropping experiment gets underway.

Piedmont Biofuels, Piedmont Biofarm and new partners Miraverse Power and Light and Southern Energy Management will have the official public ribbon cutting for the project at 4 pm on Nov. 4 at the Eco Industrial Park.

The endeavor consists of an elevated 92.16 kilowatt solar array that will generate electricity above the north field of Piedmont Biofarm, while sustainable produce is harvested at the ground level. The nine-foot clearance of the solar photovoltaic system is designed specifically to encourage growing crops that thrive in partial shade.

“Double Cropping is a term we borrowed from the wind industry,” said Estill, noting that wind generators often co-exist with working farms.

On the other hand, Estill noted, in some jurisdictions, solar installations are being banned on prime farmland.  “We need clean energy.  And we need sustainable food,” he said.  “This installation will enable both.”

Financing for the project has been provided by Michael and Amy Tiemann, who recently opened Manifold Recording, a world-class recording and production facility in Chatham County.  “The vision for this facility has always been based around sustainability,” they said in a press release. “When we began calculating the energy required to run this facility, we simultaneously envisioned how we could fit that into an overall sustainability plan.  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 sits on 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 the double-cropping project.

Farmer Doug 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, there are some vegetables that will benefit from some protection from the sun,” he said.

The 288-panel system is being installed by Southern Energy Management (SEM), a Morrisville-based company well known for utility scale solar arrays.  “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 SEM co-founder Maria Kingery.  “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 which resulted in a formal docket assignment by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Entry filed under: Food Energy, Lyle Estill, Sustainable Farming, Sustainable Food, Uncategorized, Urban Farming. Tags: , , , , , .

Pittsboro Pepper Festival Oct. 2 Local chestnuts

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Connor Albrecht  |  September 25, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    I am a student at chapel hill high school and i need to find a company that will do a free energy audit of our school so that we can start to make changes now, my mother met a red headed lady that works for your organization and she knew of a company that would do a free energy audit. Can you make any suggestions
    thanks Connor Albrecht

  • 2. Sustainable Grub  |  September 26, 2011 at 9:22 pm


    I would recommend contacting the Sustainability Technologies Program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. The director is Laura Lauffer. (919) 545-8032



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