Farm to Solar: A Story of Past, Present, and Future

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Image by Dennis Schroeder/NREL

Byron Kominek stands in the shadow of large trees by a charming farmhouse, only yards from the hay fields his grandfather Jack planted and mowed for decades.

Kominek surveys the land, being renamed “Jack’s Solar Garden,” located at 8102 North 95th Street, Longmont. The acreage runs along 95th Street just south of Longmont, and is dominated mostly by hay and grass blowing underneath the hot sun.

“How do we make this walkable? How can we make this land usable for not just private use, but for the community to enjoy this place?” Kominek describes the questions he had upon pursuing the ambitious but feasible dream for the farm’s new life. His plans for the property include apple orchards, a pollinator farm, and a solar farm, which will be specifically an agricultural project.

“It’s not being done anywhere else in Colorado, and probably in the United States as well,” Komineck says.

The journey to break ground soon on Jack’s Solar Farm has not always been easy. Kominek had to gain the trust and approval from Boulder County. Then he had to procure the trust of neighboring farm owners, some of whom were concerned about their mountain view and an increase in traffic.

But most of the community is accepting of this endeavor and Kominek is moving ahead. He envisions a research hot spot which will produce outcomes that farmers, students, locals, and future scientists will benefit from.

The farm came to fruition from Kominek’s global travels and interest in renewable energy. He spent time in the Peace Corps and worked as a U.S. Diplomat for the U.S. Agency for International Development. But his roots were on the land, locally, too.

He spent summer vacations in Boulder County at his family’s farm visiting his grandmother. The farm was purchased by his grandfather, Jack, in 1972. Jack grew wheat and hay on it until he passed away in 1980. Hay production still continues on the farm but is less productive than in past years. Jack’s Solar Farm was born out of homage to family and in honor of the future.

The farm’s new project has had a major assist from Xcel Energy Solar Rewards Community Program, which accepted his proposal. The proposal is in partnership with National Renewable Energy Laboratory and outline a plan to build a 1.2 MW community solar garden.

A subscription program is available to residents of Boulder County in order to help the project and the community as a whole. Benefits include opportunities to reduce Xcel Energy electric bills (proportionate to the number of panel one subscribes to), a farm tour, updates on the farm, and the ability to become a foundational supporter.

Illustration by Jeff Slemons

Benefits extend beyond just the individual, though. Local bees and birds will thrive in a large pollinator habitat on the site. Researchers can teach society how to integrate crops and solar panels so energy and food can be co-produced. The garden will donate electric bill credits to select low-income families in partnership with the county government. Also, there will be space available for local artists.

As Kominek prepares to give the family farm new life, the people of Boulder County can enjoy the rebirth as the future of renewable energy grows in their own backyard.


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