What started as being a nice neighbor to a regenerative farm has turned into a whole new way of building and maintaining solar projects for Silicon Ranch.
With close to 1 GW of installed projects, the utility-scale solar developer and owner was seeing the real impact of using herbicides and pesticides to manage vegetation growth. After siting a new project next to one of the larger regenerative ranchers in the Southeast, Silicon Ranch (whose mission is to be a supportive community member) wanted to ensure it wasn’t applying chemicals or contributing to soil erosion that may affect the rancher’s mission. With some tips from the rancher, Silicon Ranch dove into regenerative land management practices that could improve the land at each of its solar sites.
In this episode of the Contractor’s Corner podcast, Solar Power World editor-in-chief Kelly Pickerel talks with Silicon Ranch CEO Reagan Farr about the company’s regenerative energy process, and how bringing more native plants and grazing livestock to solar sites can make a big impact on communities.
A portion of the interview is below, but be sure to listen to the full podcast for even more insight, including how the company started as an idea within the Tennessee state government and what it’s like to be partially owned by Shell. Silicon Ranch is celebrating 10 years in the solar industry, and so is SPW’s Pickerel, so listen in as they talk about the decade-club.
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How did the “Silicon Ranch” name come about?
(Founding company chairman) Governor Philip Bredesen started several companies, and he said one of the most difficult questions of every company he’s ever been a part of is, What are we going to name it? The three of us (Reagan Farr, chairman Matt Kisber, former Governor Philip Bredesen) went home and made a list of our top five. Before we had gotten home and settled, Governor Bredesen had come up with the name and logo. As soon as we saw it, we said, “All right, so that is the name of the company!” It’s a great name and it dovetails so well with our regenerative energy and our partnership with local ranchers across the community. I wish I could say we had the foresight when we came up with the name that it was going to dovetail so smoothly. It’s a huge complement to our regenerative energy platform.
Is the experience working with co-ops different than working with the larger investor-owned utilities?
It is. The co-op business model is one that aligns very closely with our mission, vision and value. Co-ops are owned by their members. They’re very focused on triple-net-benefits: low-cost power, quality of life in the community and reliability of service. Investor-owned utilities by their nature are looking out for the shareholders. With co-ops, the shareholders are the community members, so they really want to make sure that when they partner and bring a solar provider into their community, that solar provider is going to reflect well on them and they’re going to add something to the community. Our whole focus from the beginning has been, everywhere we go and put a project, we want to make that community a better place. We engage based on feedback from the community. That can translate into sponsoring scholarships, participating in the local chamber, providing an education curriculum to the schools — every community has a different goal and objective, but we really like the way our values and approach of long-term asset ownership aligns with the objectives of co-ops to improve the communities that they serve.
You use a good mix of thin-film solar panels and crystalline silicon panels, trackers and fixed-tilt mounting. When does choosing between different types of products really make a difference, and is this a continuous learning process?
It really is. There’s no right answer, because different products perform better in different geographies. We have invested in strategic partnerships, and we innovate collaboratively. A great example: we buy a lot of Nextracker tracking, and it has TrueCapture where it would optimize around cloudy weather. They had a lot of data, but they had run analysis on silicon-based modules but not done the same analysis on thin-film. So we put that technology on some of our operating plants and had TrueCapture on half of it, and the other half is the controlled data. We’re really part of helping fine-tune it. Part of innovation is partnerships and collaboration.