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A pollen-friendly landscape takes root under the Minnesota solar panels

Credit: PIXTA / CC0 public domain

Sheep graze the grass in tall meadows, and their barks break quiet places, much like butterflies and insects fly around native flowers.


The idyllic setting is not a restored prairie. This is a solar facility in the rural area of ​​Chisago County, one of 16 locations in Minnesota. Ener Green Power is a global renewable energy company based in Rome that supplies Xcel Energy.

In Minnesota, at least Solar farm It produces more than electricity. Instead of lawns, bare lands and gravel, the land beneath Eneru’s Minnesota facility was planted with native pollen-friendly grasses, sedges and wildflowers. They have matured into a rich native habitat for bees, insects and butterflies — in their desperately lacking landscape.

Minnesota agencies such as the Public Utility Commission, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Soil and Water Resources Commission all encourage such planting in solar power plants as a matter of policy.

Rob Davis, director of the Energy Pollen Mating Center at Fresh Energy, a non-profit organization in St. Paul, said: It may be food or other types of plants.

In accordance with 2016 legislation, Minnesota has pioneered the criteria for constructing hay fever-friendly vegetation at solar power plants to prevent greenwashing and false environmentally friendly claims.

St. Paul’s Monarch Joint Venture is one of a group studying results.

Laura Lukens, the group’s national surveillance coordinator, went to several Eneru sites with a clipboard this summer to find the quality and abundance of flowering plants and milkweed, and of the native pollen maters who use them. I checked the stock. She also tracks the differences between the habitats growing beneath the panel and the habitats in between. Lucens said she was excited about what she saw.

“We have seen great things in terms of the flower community and the pollen maters that inhabit it,” Lucens said. “I saw the monarch breeding everywhere I visited.”

On Wednesday, the air became thicker at the site in Eneru’s Chisago County near Schaefer. Black-eyed Susan bloomed, for example, mixed with Canadian wild rye, sedges, and other native plants.

Vegetation cools and boosts solar panels Electrical outputJacob Föhren, regional manager of Eneru, walked in line to explain, as long-rooted perennials help rebuild the soil.

One of the company’s smaller sites, the array was built on 25 acres of refurbished farmland with 16,632 rotating panels facing the sun. It will generate enough megawatts to power more than 600 homes nearby, Ferren said.

Like all of Eneru’s Minnesota sites, the Otosego-based MNL, formerly known as the Minnesota Native Landscape, has seeded a pollen-friendly native mix. MNL took it a step further and added flock of sheep to manage vegetation in many places.

MNL’s service director, Jake Jansky, said it’s a Katahdin sheep breed that doesn’t require shaving like wool. “Mob grazing” reproduces both open burning and bison herds, controlling dead material, reducing the risk of fire and stimulating new growth, he said. Fertilizer becomes fertilizer.

“This isn’t this weird concept because it’s the next step in land management we’re trying to normalize,” says Janski. “We’re trying to use animals to normalize what animals do in nature. I’m sick of just putting on band-aids. We’re trying to fix the prairie.”

Yes, sheep elicit some laughter in other states, said Ferren of Eneru. The company does it because they meet “sustainability needs,” he said. In Texas, he said Eneru is considering raising the height of the solar panels and grazing the cows beneath them.

Sheep have some challenges. Workers were repairing an electric fence with some ornery rams torn as they strolled around a row of panels on Wednesday.

Next is the coyote. Coyotes may scoop under fences in the lower wildlife crevices. MNL may bring mini donkeys to protect sheep from predators.

The entire model is spreading among solar operators, according to Jansky.

“What we need to prove is long-term cost competitiveness,” he said. “The industry is about to scrutinize in the long run.”


Solar Energy and Pollen Crosser Protection: The Road to Real Impact?


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Quote: A pollen-friendly landscape takes root under the solar panels in Minnesota (July 7, 2021).

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A pollen-friendly landscape takes root under the Minnesota solar panels

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