Local solar visionary, entrepreneur on track with agrivoltaics project

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Packy Campbell of Bright Spot Solar LLC beneath one his trackers at Staples Plaza. (Courtesy photo)

ROCHESTER - Folks in the Northern Seacoast may not know what agrivoltaics is, but if a Farmington man's plans bear fruit, you may soon be enjoying fresh blueberries from his agrivoltaics farm on Rochester's Shaw Drive.
Agrivoltaics is the practice of placing solar arrays near crop-growing farmland, a synergistic practice that was first developed in Europe in the 1980s. Packy Campbell says it will work in Rochester, too.
He has cleared some 26 acres at his property at 60 Shaw Drive and plans to begin planting this summer, however it may take a year or two to develop a healthy crop.

Lanc where solar array would be planted above blueberry crop

Campbell, who owns Bright Spot Solar, LLC, will not only be planting blueberries at 60 Shaw Drive. He'll also plant 60 trackers - each with 48 solar panels - above the blueberry bushes. While the plants yield blueberries, the solar array will produce up to a megawatt of electricity that will provide the majority of power for the Rochester School Department.
Sitting in his office at RSA Realty earlier this month, Campbell recounted it's been a long, tough haul to the permitting for his project, but he thinks after the City Council OK'd his building permit on Feb. 7 he may finally now be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.
He said having a solar array above the blueberry bushes will benefit the crop, keeping the air moist and blocking some of the direct sunlight that can stress the plants.
It is estimated that agrivoltaics can increase the crop-yield efficiency by up to 60 percent, according to experts.
"The trackers keep it moist, which is what blueberries like," said Campbell, who noted that blueberry crop will be strictly a commercial operation.
"We've already gotten some interest from potential buyers," he said adding he'll begin with 10 acres of blueberries and 60 trackers.
Campbell, who owns Pip Rental, Pip Storage and several area car washes, is a bit of a solar entrepreneur, too. He got into doing solar projects about six years ago as a tax benefit and now has about 100 trackers and 50 arrays scattered around the city, including the very visible ones at Staples Plaza where he runs RSA Realty..
Three years ago he founded Bright Spot Solar LLC, which sells trackers to residential and commercial buyers.
He said a typical tracker costs $70,000 and will produce 40 kilowatts of power per year, which with tax benefits and incentives can pay for itself in just three years.
Campbell said the city of Rochester has been difficult to deal with during the permitting process, including the ZBA which denied his solar variance, but he bears no ill will, just disappointment.
"We have a fundamental disagreement as to how the city is not respecting state laws that promote the production of alternative energy by small customers who generate their own electricity on their properties and sell excess energy to the power grid like Eversource," he said.

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