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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Pollinator-friendly Community Solar

In the New York Capital Region

Eden’s ecologist Brian Kirkpatrick surveying invertebrates at one of our Capital Region solar sites. (Photos: Eden Renewables)

Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall

As chilly winds and snow give way to warmer temperatures and unfurling leaves, the air feels charged with hope and optimism. Like many businesses across the United States, Eden Renewables has had to find new ways of working and meeting unprecedented challenges. As the country starts to unlock, this summer ten new community solar farms developed by Eden will break ground in the New York Capital Region, an exciting next phase for the solar development company.

These solar farms will deliver clean, solar power to households in the towns of Claverack, Duanesburg, Glen, Schaghticoke, and Schodack allowing subscribers to save 10% on their electricity bills. But although providing clean, low-cost community power is important, they will bring much more to those places.

Eden is a pioneer in developing pollinator-friendly solar farms; instead of leaving the ground bare beneath the solar arrays, or with a grass monoculture, it is used in a positive way to encourage better biodiversity and ecology.

Many will already be aware that the world faces both a climate and an ecological crisis. The changing climate and lack of healthy food sources for wildlife are interlinked. But there’s an economic case to answer as well as an environmental one. Pollinators such as honey bees and native bees play a vital role in U.S. agriculture, providing more than $15 billion of value in pollination services every year. Our farmers depend on these beneficial insects to produce many food crops.

Pollination in action at one of Eden’s UK solar sites.

Eden’s solar projects specifically benefit pollinators by sowing a mixture of native wildflowers, sedges and grasses as ground cover at every site. Each solar farm is about 30 acres and in total, more than 35 million new pollinator-friendly flowering plants and native grasses will be thriving under and around the panels. At many sites, new trees and hedgerows will be planted, which have the dual purpose of helping to screen the solar arrays from public view as well as providing valuable shelter and habitat for wildlife and connectivity for foraging. Bird and bat boxes are provided on the perimeters.

Eden also works closely with local farmers to maximize the agricultural benefits of the projects, and you will often find sheep grazing among the panels as part of the land maintenance program, as well as beehives to produce honey.

The company’s work to develop pollinator-friendly solar farms in the U.S. originates from its team’s experience of over 10 years at the forefront of the solar industry in the UK and is backed by extensive research. Biodiversity scorecards are used to measure the performance of each project and monitor progress with annual ecological surveys. This annual research consistently shows an increase in abundance of wildflowers and grasses, with corresponding growth in numbers and varieties of bees, butterflies and birds. At one solar farm in the South of England, the land has been managed to encourage wild grassland breeding birds, resulting in two sightings of a rare, endangered bird species, the Cirl Bunting, which is only found in a very small area in the UK. A 40-fold increase in butterflies was also observed!

While generating solar power has obvious direct carbon reduction benefits to tackle the climate emergency, programs are also implemented to measure the increased carbon sequestration from leaving the land around the panels to be largely reclaimed by nature.

The Eden team’s work on maximizing biodiversity at solar farms in the UK initially spread to Minnesota, informing the work of U.S. stakeholders and scientists, resulting in the state’s legislators unanimously adopting the nation’s first standard for pollinator-friendly solar in 2016. That reached many more U.S. states and was adopted into law in both Vermont and New York in 2018 with the Pollinator-Friendly Solar Act.

Eden’s first three community solar farms in New York’s Capital Region were consented in 2019, but construction was delayed due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, during 2020, seven additional projects in New York were approved. By this time in 2022 there should be butterflies fluttering, birds singing and honey bees buzzing around newly planted photovoltaic panels. The future looks bright for pollinators and solar in the Capital Region!

Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall is responsible for community engagement at Eden Renewables. Visit www.edenrenewables.com to find out more.

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