Solar modules can go just about everywhere: satellites, poles, trailers, and most commonly rooftops. The most basic solar installation is the ground mount. As you may have guessed, ground mount systems are solar modules that are secured…to the ground.
Now imagine, you’ve just inherited 10 acres of land in the middle of the Mojave! What will you do with your newly acquired desert paradise? Ten acres isn’t quite enough land to fulfill your lifelong dream of constructing “The Cleveland Show” theme park, rocket launch pads aren’t permitted in your county, and a manatee rescue facility is (sadly) out of the question. Luckily, there are some alternative land uses that you may not have been aware of.
Turning your unused land into a farm can generate extra income. According to the USDA, farms generate an average of $2650 per acre nationwide. This figure is about twice as high for cropland as it is for pastures. Unfortunately, the sandy soil on your acreage makes planting out of the question. Perhaps you could graze a herd of cattle! However, with only ten acres you can only support two cattle…tops. Your pasture land would only yield around fifteen thousand dollars annually. Maybe there’s another route – one with less manual labor.
If you’ve decided the homesteading lifestyle isn’t for you, there may still be a way to turn your land into a money-making enterprise: solar! Smaller, utility-scale solar projects are an attractive, low-maintenance development option in the sunny Southwest. A megawatt of solar requires roughly eight acres of land, meaning your 10 acre parcel could generate about one megawatt of electricity. In the Mojave, where electricity costs 12.5 cent/kWh, your array would generate over $180,000 in it’s first year of operation, no watering required (link to solar garden post)! With a return of 18k per acre, you’ll be nearly seven times greater than the USDA’s average farmland returns! That figure doesn’t even take into account the 30% tax credit offered during your first year of operation. As the price of electricity climbs, so do your profits. Once construction is complete, your solar system will continue to generate electricity for at least twenty-five years.
An important point to consider is that in California, net metering agreements are capped at 1 MW systems. In addition, the production credit you receive must be less than your annual consumption. If you have more than ten acres or don’t consume much electricity, Power Purchasing Agreements (PPAs) or community solar projects may be better options. Of course, ground mounted systems aren’t only for inherited land. Solar makes financial sense for any unused, sunny land because of its high per-acre value. Golf courses and farms can easily offset their electricity using just a few acres of ground mounted solar modules. Many large retail businesses find ground mounts are more cost effective than roof mounts. In addition, ground mount systems allow for dual land use so you could graze livestock while harvesting power from the sun.
During my research for this post, I came across some great ways to make more money than $18k/acre. They all require far more labor, resources, and maintenance than solar but are interesting nonetheless. Here are Farmer Danny’s top “get rich quick” tips:
Increasingly, small scale farmers have been entering the market raising unconventional crops. Willow shoots are popular in artistic and crafting applications and can be grown on relatively small plots. A University of Kentucky study found that annual production of willows was around 4 tons per acre. At seven dollars a pound, you could bring in over half a million a year. If reeds aren’t your cup of tea, you could try your hand at farming fungi. Oyster mushrooms grow especially quickly in small, indoor spaces, producing up to twenty-five pounds per square foot annually. Bamboo and garlic are other crops with small space requirements and high yields. Happy Farming!