Encore Renewable Energy and Greenbacker announced a new agreement to complete 14 solar projects with a total output of 28 MW and pollinator-friendly land cover. This initiative builds on the recently announced partnership and provides more than 200 acres of habitat needed to increase pollinator populations such as bees and monarch butterflies.
These important species, which are critical to the health of our future food supplies, are in decline due to widespread use of insecticides and herbicides, as well as habitat loss from climate change and land development activities. These new pollinator-friendly solar locations will support diverse and healthy pollinator populations with a diverse mix of native grasses and flowering plants.
“This agreement is the perfect example of a successful triple bottom line business,” said Chad Farrell, Founder and CEO of Encore Renewable Energy. “We are creating environmentally sustainable land cover that improves soil quality, fixes roots in the ground and directs rainwater back into the aquifers below, while also taking into account the social importance of supporting healthy food systems. These impacts will go beyond the boundaries of any of these solar projects and support other species that rely on high pollinator populations, including birds, fish, other animals, and ultimately all of us. “
Matt Murphy, COO of Greenbacker Capital, added, “Greenbacker is excited to partner with Encore to introduce pollinator-friendly vegetation to our locations. If we can think about our landscaping to improve our local ecology and community while reducing our overall costs of operations and operations, we consider it a win-win situation. We strive to be good stewards of the land and this approach enables us not only to reduce our carbon emissions, but to actively sequester carbon through the biomass of these deeply rooted perennials. “
The higher upfront cost of establishing pollinator-friendly land cover in Vermont and Maine is offset by long-term savings for vegetative management. Pollinator-friendly soil cover in solar sites also allows for healthy plant soil cover that will shade the soil and create cooler soil conditions that can mitigate the negative effects of heat on solar energy production.
Eventually, the local communities around these projects will benefit as well, as research shows that pollinator-friendly solar locations can increase the yields of some nearby crops. A recent study by Rutgers University found that a lack of pollinators limited the yields of several American crops. The land cover for each of the 14 new solar projects will be designed and managed according to guidelines published by the University of Vermont in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Agriculture and others.
“It’s exciting to see influential leaders like Encore and Greenbacker innovate and use the land under and around solar farms productively – especially in two states where farmers tend more than 110,000 acres of berries, orchards and vegetables,” he told Rob Davis, director of the Center for Pollinators in Energy at Nonprofit Fresh Energy.
Scientists predict that farmers and other landowners will lease more than 2 million acres of land for photovoltaic solar projects by 2030 – an increase from around 300,000 acres today. But these facilities are becoming more and more like traditional farms every year.
With support from the US Department of Energy’s Office of Solar Energy Technologies, scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are researching low-impact solar development designs that double-use and benefit agriculture and ecosystems. The NREL study, called InSPIRE, also shows how environmentally friendly solar designs can reduce costs and increase operational efficiency by reducing the amount of mowing and creating a cooler microclimate beneath the panels.
More than a dozen states have land-use standards in place to encourage pollinator-friendly land cover under and around the panels of solar panels from a few to a few thousand acres. Hundreds of beehives in the Midwest, Northwest and Northeast are searching for pollen and nectar in solar farms, and thousands of sheep have recorded millions of “sheep hours” while rotating grazing on solar farms.
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