Continued from 1st Project Finance for Agricultural Mega Solar Plant Revitalizes Idle Farmland (1)

Solar sharing is a rising star

Shimin Energy Chiba started the operation of an agricultural solar power plant for the first time in September 2014. About 500 panels manufactured by Amerisolar (70W/sheet) were installed at the plant. Five PV inverters manufactured by Omron Corp (5.9kW) were introduced to the plant. The power is sold at a unit price of 36 yen. The construction cost of about 8.2 million yen was raised from supporters from the public; the plant is a "public joint investment type" (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8 : The agricultural solar power plant, connected to a low-voltage power line, was constructed in 2014 raising funds from the public. (source: Nikkei BP)

Tsubaki, who is engaged in agriculture in Sosa City, has been involved in the solar sharing project since the first solar sharing facility. The Kaihata District, as the name indicates, was developed into fields by forest reclamation. The clayey soil of the district is weak and has poor drainage. High-value-added crops such as vegetables cannot be grown in the district and so it is difficult making a living from farming.

"Many fields are abandoned because of this reason," Tsubaki said. "We sought to construct outdoor solar power plants, but we had to give up because it was impossible to convert the farmland for the reason that the fields were created using public funds and are in the agriculture promotion area."

Under such situation, he met Higashi, who was promoting solar sharing, and they worked together to realize construction of solar sharing power plants in the Kaihata District.

"Solar sharing is a rising star in the Kaihata District, where agriculture was about to reach a dead end," Tsubaki said.

Higashi pointed out the issues of conventional-type solar sharing projects saying, "The owner of the farmland, the power producer and the farmer are different, and many farmers are conservative and skeptical about solar sharing. Given that the number of farmers is decreasing, it is difficult to find ones who grow crops under solar panels even if a solar sharing facility is constructed."

Shimin Energy Chiba aims for the installation of solar panels by a farmer on his/her own farmland and cultivation of the land under the panels by the farmer. The solar sharing project in Sosa City is close to the image of the ideal situation, Higashi said.