Renewable energy group pledges to help bee and bird populations with pollinator-friendly plantings
MONTPELIER — Renewable Energy Vermont (REV) members pledged on Sept. 19 to help pollinators through bee and bird-friendly plantings at solar projects across the state. In partnership with leading scientists and environmental organizations, solar leaders committed to help landowners re-create habitat to aid imperiled keystone species and valuable crop pollinators.
“The pollinator-friendly solar pledge reflects one of many ways that renewable energy helps heal our environment and support farmers,” said Olivia Campbell Andersen, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Vermont. “Working together, solar leaders and wildlife advocates are abuzz with the benefits that pollinator-friendly solar projects bring. Nine businesses have already stepped up, committing to 24.8 megawatts of pollinator-friendly solar over the next year.”
In recent years, increased pesticide use and habitat loss have led to the near collapse of pollinator populations worldwide. Pollinators are a crucial part of any ecosystem, and their loss has spurred action across many sectors, including Vermont’s robust renewable energy sector.
“There is an opportunity to use the space under solar fields, wind towers, and power lines to restore critical habitat for our declining pollinators. We began in 2015 with a field south of Middlebury, Vermont built by Encore Renewable Energy for Middle Road Venture,” said Mike Kiernan of Bee the Change, a non-profit helping energy projects switch management methods. “Our most recent work was a four-acre installation for the Green Lantern Group in New Haven and we’ve just begun work on a solar field with a demonstration garden at Rock Point School in Burlington, which will allow us to bring in school groups, garden clubs, and interested citizens and tell the story of the importance of pollinators. We are now in five solar fields across the state with several more in the works.”
Vermont solar businesses and landowners are creating win-win-win strategies for clean energy, agriculture, and pollinators. By using the land under and around solar arrays to plant native pollinator-friendly plants, Vermont solar energy can play a significant role in re-establishing critical pollinator habitats to address the growing threat to bees and birds, which are valuable crop pollinators.
“Bee The Change installed over 90 species of plants and flowers at our four-acre solar project this spring, and to see the birds and bees buzzing all over the array two weeks ago was very exciting, said Sam Carlson, Director of Project Development at the Green Lantern Group. “The site is beautiful with so many flowers blooming, and the honey is going to taste great, too! This is a great example of a solar project delivering not only clean Vermont-made electricity but also benefits for pollinators, who need our help.”
Audubon Vermont, which has been engaging Vermonters to protect birds and wildlife habitat for over 50 years, is another partner and resource to Vermonters hoping to protect local pollinators. “Audubon’s research has shown that half of Vermont’s birds are threatened by climate change. We need to both enhance habitat and reduce the amount of carbon we are adding to the atmosphere around us,” said Jim Shallow, Audubon Vermont State Director. “These sites not only create the clean energy we need but also become part of a collective effort to develop and sustain habitat for birds and other pollinators.”
In Vermont, businesses and organizations have already committed to pollinator-friendly practices, including Ben & Jerry’s, Catamount Solar, Encore Renewables, Green Lantern Group, Grassroots Solar, Green Mountain Power, GroSolar, Shelburne Farms, and VSECU. REV Member Encore Renewable Energy, which hosts two 500 kilowatt pollinator-friendly projects in the state, says there is a business case for the practice.
“We view the colocation of pollinator-friendly plantings within ground-mounted commercial-scale solar arrays as a perfect example of a positive triple bottom line outcome. The social and environmental benefits of these projects are well documented, and solar project owners are able to lower site management costs over time,” said Chad Farrell of Encore Renewable Energy. “In addition, we feel that the favorable impact on project aesthetics offered by pollinators should allow for more solar projects to be built, something that will have multiple benefits as we look to deliver additional sources of distributed electrical generation to counter the negative effects of climate change.”
New tools and resources are available to help navigate implementation of these sustainable site management strategies, thanks to the guidance of experts at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute and Agricultural Extension, Vermont’s Agencies of Agriculture and Natural Resources and engagement by local and national non-profits.
Following the REV conference in 2016, Energy Action Network brought together a diverse group of science, agricultural, and business leaders to develop a certifiable standard — or “scorecard” — to provide transparent guidance for vegetative management plans using pollinator-friendly plants.
The impactful collaboration provided important guidance to enable Vermont’s solar energy leaders to set the standard for generating both clean energy and vital pollinator habitats that are critical to the future of our birds, our bees, and our farms.
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