One of the largest and most controversial factors that can potentially disrupt a solar install project is the location. The location is extremely important for likely solar sites and can oftentimes be met with local resistance. Solar cynics like to argue that the site is sitting on potentially productive land as well as the “industrial chic decor” of the installation itself isn’t a very welcomed sight.
We do have some good news to report for these controversial solar initiatives—according to a widening body of research, this resistance can be met with support if the solar projects are designed with greener, cleaner solutions in place. One trend we’re seeing that’s gaining momentum across the country is “pollinator-friendly” landscaping. This idea swaps out the use of gravel and turf to cover the exposed soil with pollinator-friendly vegetation, like grasses, native greenery, and wildflowers. The idea behind this practice is to encourage bees and other pollinators to visit these solar project sites, which is essential for helping boost and maintain local agriculture.
Pollinators play an integral role in agricultural production in the United States, with approximately one quarter depending upon pollinators. Clearing out large fields for solar projects (1 MW of solar requires 5 to 10 acres of land) to be installed comes at the expense of these pollinators, who depend on this space for shelter and food. Pollinator-friendly landscaping is a common-sense solution to halt this happening and these areas can be potentially conserved for the future return to agriculture.
Benefits of Pollinator-Friendly Solar Sites
Choosing pollinator-friendly landscaping while designing a solar site has many advantages. For starters, it can help to boost the overall output of the solar installation. A solar site covered with gravel, turf or crushed rock “can cut the solar project efficiency by half a percent for every two degrees of temperature increase above 77 degrees Fahrenheit”, says Rob Davis, director of the Center for Pollinators in Energy. “Thicker vegetation helps you mitigate the effects of heat and keep your solar farm operating at peak temperature.” says Davis. Other benefits developers have noticed are improved water and soil quality because of the deep root systems of the pollinator-friendly plants, as well as lower construction and solar site maintenance costs and improved economic impacts, like the introduction of solar honey.
Georgena Terry, author of a report on pollinator-friendly state policies also points out that these initiatives garner support from stakeholders because they are “feel-good initiatives that “have few detractors and appeal to both sides of the aisle.”
Pollinator-Friendly Solar Laws and Programs
A handful of states (7) now have pollinator-friendly solar landscaping design laws in place. In 2016, Minnesota became the first state to adopt a pollinator-friendly law, followed by Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, South Carolina, and Vermont. While Virginia has no specific laws in place, they have developed their own program, Pollinator Smart, designed to “provide incentives and tools for the solar industry to adopt a native plant strategy to meet soil and water control regulations, community needs, and the needs of our biosphere.”
Many regions with no firm pollinator-friendly laws in place have developed their own unique programs that vary slightly. A common thread was seen throughout each program and that’s the use of a pollinator-friendly scorecard. This scorecard provides developers with entomologist-approved standards that are beneficial for the pollinators.
With more and more states gaining support and adopting successful programs and practices in favor of pollinator-friendly solar projects, we don’t see this trend slowing down any time soon. As Rob Davis has stated, “We’d really like to ensure that the land under and around the panels is benefiting us as much as the clean energy is.” At Intersect Energy, we always provide innovative and efficient green solar solutions to our clients. Stay up-to-date with all the latest news by following us on LinkedIn.