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We are celebrating Pollinator Week June 20-24 and it got us thinking why Solential is such a proponent of including pollinator habitats in the solar projects we design, build and manage. Sure, they look great but there are many reasons for including these essential habitats in your solar strategy. Here are the top five most compelling reasons:
1) Pollinator habitats provide places for pollinators that are essential to the health of the planet and yes, crops.
Here’s a crazy fact for you. Did you know there are 20,000 species of bees, of which about 4,000 are truly “busy bees” contributing to pollination? Who knew? Here’s something else for you. While some media outlets claim bees are at risk of being extinct, only eight species are on the endangered species list. According to AgDaily, bee populations are actually quite healthy. They quote extensive analysis done by The Washington Post in 2017 that shows bee numbers are close to historical highs.
Here’s the rub. The reasons some bees are threatened are loss of habitat, natural disasters and invasive species. While we can’t tackle natural disasters or invasive species, humans do have some control over habitats. Creating habitats for pollinators doesn’t mean converting hundreds of thousands of acres into flowers. What it does mean is being mindful about setting aside natural areas where bees, butterflies, other insects, and birds can flourish.
The land under ground-mounted solar arrays is the perfect place for pollinator habitats as they pose no threat of damage to the racking or panels. Solar arrays can occupy as little as an acre to hundreds of acres. There are no size limits to habitats – you just need to plant the right plants to attract, feed, and provide shelter to pollinators. Lastly, your bees and butterflies will also be busy pollinating local farmlands, yards, parks, and roadsides. It’s their job.
2) Pollinator habitats support the biodiversity of native plants and grasses.
Crop lands, commercial developments, and residential areas are not known for biodiversity. Sure there are different types of corn and wheat, shrubs and grasses, but it’s nothing like the biodiversity of nature. Just drive out in the country and look at all of the different kind of plants – some would say weeds – along the roads. These plants vary greatly based on the geography: highlands and lowlands, river bottoms and swamps. These ecosystems of plant life attract all kinds of insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Believe it or not, even flowers and grasses can be endangered.
When Solential installs pollinator habitats under our solar arrays, great pains are taken to use flowering plants and grasses native to the region. It’s a very practical approach: native plants are more likely to thrive in their natural habitat without human intervention. Also, native plants provide the foods and shelter preferred by local pollinators.
We are fortunate to have pollinator habitat partner, Barney Johnson of Blue Stem Acres, an expert at creating habitats specific to the Midwestern states where most of our solar arrays are located. Learn more about Blue Stem here. It’s worth noting there is funding available through government programs for pollinator habitats. Solential can help with that, too.
3) Pollinator habitats reduce the ongoing maintenance and associated costs of solar arrays.
When people think of a solar systems, they think of the investment made in the racking, the panels and electrical components. Most don’t think about the expense of maintaining the land under the arrays. If you plant grass under solar arrays, there is an ongoing expense of labor, equipment, and fuel to keep the grass cut so it doesn’t interfere with the array and is not an eyesore. If you choose gravel instead of grass, there’s the expense of weed control. That is an ongoing battle!
Installing a pollinator habitat under a solar array is definitely a low maintenance, lower cost solution. Labor is largely limited to initial planting and then clean-up at the end of winter before things get growing again. We select lower-growing plants so that they don’t interfere with the arrays. Cutting is discouraged, even at the end of summer. The reason being that the dead foliage, their seeds and fruit in some cases, provides important shelter and nutrition during cold weather months for all kinds of insects, birds and animals.
Because pollinator habitats don’t require constant attention, you also don’t have to worry about labor, fuel costs and equipment. Doesn’t this sound a whole lot better than cutting grass and weeding?
4) Pollinator habitats bring beauty to communities.
Gravel under solar arrays is not beautiful. Functional, but not beautiful. Grass is more attractive but return to Reason 3 and then it’s not quite as attractive. Now pollinator habitats, with their constantly changing foliage, bees, butterflies, moths, birds, and other living things are a thing of beauty. Check out this recently installed pollinator habitat at the Jasper County Jail in Indiana:
While solar arrays are not inherently beautiful – though green, renewable energy is amazing – when coupled with flowers, grasses and wildlife, they are mesmerizing. Your community will thank you for creating such a beautiful place.
5) Pollinator habitats are something to be proud of.
Anyone can cover the earth in asphalt, gravel, or sod and call it a day. But those who create pollinator habitats under solar arrays, between fields of corn and soybeans, in city spaces, and in yards have made a concerted effort to make the world a better place. And that’s something to be proud of, to share and enjoy. No one ever regrets planting flowers. There are probably plenty of people who regret covering natural spaces with concrete, asphalt and gravel.
Want to Make a Pollinator Habitat Part of Your Solar Strategy? Talk to Solential. It’s what we do. Contact us here and let’s start a conversation.