Jack’s Solar Garden: Keep on the sunny side 

Since the beginning, Jack’s Solar Garden has been an experiment in partnerships.

Jacks Solar

When Byron Kominek moved to his grandfather’s farm in 2016, he saw a seemingly inherent problem in the production of solar energy. Traditional ground-level solar panels are in competition with the plants around them, potentially lowering energy production by keeping sunlight from reaching the panels. This has led to solar energy producers removing and spraying plant life around solar panels, degrading the soil in the process. 

So Byron, now owner and manager of his grandpa’s namesake Jack’s Solar Garden, set out to solve this conundrum by constructing raised solar panels that allowed crops to grow beneath and between them. Not only did this eliminate the competition issue, but it also led to more benefits both for solar production and agricultural production: The shade from the solar panels protect plants from all-day direct sunlight, leading to increased photosynthesis and agricultural production. At the same time, the plants used less water as they cooled the solar panels from the bottom, bringing higher efficiency in solar energy capture and production of electricity.

From the beginning, Jack’s has been above all an experiment in partnerships. It’s been studied since its inception by researchers at University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the University of Arizona and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Audubon Rockies maintains pollinator habitats around the solar panels. Jaime Hispa, Jack’s 2023 Artist on the Farm, teaches plein air paint workshops. And local notable weed purveyors like Terrapin Care Station and In the Flow Boutique Cannabis use some of the energy produced at Jack’s. On top of all that, the fact that the largest commercial agrovoltaics site in the country is also an accessible produce farm in Longmont seems like another metaphor for the hidden goldmine that is Boulder’s eastern backyard.