22 Mar 2022
Bees, monarchs, and other critical pollinators are disappearing, and scientists agree that loss of habitat is a primary concern. However, research has found that the renewable energy sector provides a unique opportunity for creating new pollinator habitat. In 2016, the "pollinator-friendly solar" movement began in Minnesota and has since spread to other states. Pollinator-friendly solar is the effort to provide habitat for critical pollinators on solar sites and many states-including Minnesota-have adopted policies that support and facilitate this strategy in the managed landscape of a solar farm.
In the summer of 2021, Monarch Joint Venture and Fresh Energy partnered to document habitat condition and use by insect pollinators at four established pollinator-friendly solar developments in Anoka and Ramsey Counties in Minnesota. Using field data collection practices including the Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program, Monarch Joint Venture tracked the abundance of milkweed and flowering plants, insect pollinators, monarch reproduction, and more.
"We wanted to begin quantifying the impacts of pollinator-friendly solar on Minnesota's pollinator populations," said Michael Noble, executive director at Fresh Energy. "Habitat plantings under solar arrays can add a small amount to the cost of a solar development project, but this study shows that it's an investment well worth making for the benefit of Minnesota's critical pollinators."
"We have lost millions of acres of native grassland habitat in the Midwest and continue to lose more and more each day," said Laura Lukens, National Monitoring Coordinator at Monarch Joint Venture. "Habitat loss and other threats have had a tremendous impact on pollinator populations. We need to do all we can to add native vegetation back to the landscape and this study suggests that solar developments could play an important role in supporting Minnesota's pollinators."
The researchers at Monarch Joint Venture observed a high number of flowering plant species within and outside of the solar arrays and a variety and abundance of bees, butterflies, moths, flies, and wasps utilizing the habitat. Using these data, Monarch Joint Venture in partnership with Fresh Energy has released a Monitoring Pollinators on Minnesota Solar Installations report to demonstrate the effectiveness of siting pollinator habitat with solar arrays in Minnesota-as well as areas needing further research. For more information about the report, join experts from Monarch Joint Venture, MNL, Connexus Energy, and Fresh Energy for a webinar on May 18, 2022.
Though many pollinator conservation efforts are underway, a recent study determined that the U.S. is failing to meet conservation goals outlined in the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators (Bloom et al., 2021). Continued investment in conservation action is necessary to sustain and recover pollinator populations. The energy sector could play an important role in contributing acres to national habitat goals. Long-term management of these spaces and monitoring will be critical to ensure that pollinator-friendly practices are resulting in desired outcomes through time.
Fresh Energy | www.fresh-energy.org
Monarch Joint Venture | www.monarchjointventure.org