Kids plant pollinator habitat on the site of a solar array at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center near Finland, Minnesota.

Mike Evenocheck

Kids plant pollinator habitat on the site of a solar array at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center near Finland, Minnesota.

Commentary: Bees and butterflies can benefit from solar, too

Mike Evenocheck

Mike Evenocheck is the sales manager at Prairie Restorations, Inc., in Princeton, Minnesota.

As anticipated, solar power development is experiencing a tremendous amount of growth here in the region. With many projects underway and even more in the planning stages, Minnesotans will soon be reaping the benefits of this clean, renewable energy source.

And with a little bit of creativity and forward thinking, another group will be benefiting as well: pollinators.

As many of us our now aware, the loss of critical habitat is having a dramatic effect on pollinator populations. From monarch butterflies to honeybees, these insects are essential to maintaining the health of the ecosystems which support us all.

So utilizing the “idle” ground associated with solar farms, whether 1,000 sq ft or 1,000 acres, to create habitat surely seems like the right thing to do. For companies looking to build solar sites, the following project could be considered a good model as it relates to habitat creation, local education and connection to energy generation.

This past October, Boreal Natives, a division of Prairie Restorations, Inc., had the privilege of working with Great River Energy on a pollinator habitat restoration project at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minnesota. A new 14.5 KW capacity solar array had been recently installed by the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance on the Center’s grounds, and the disturbed areas were in need of revegetation.

In lieu of turf grass or other traditional ground covers, Great River Energy approached us about the possibility of establishing a native vegetation landscape. Not only would this native landscape not require fertilizer, irrigation or weekly maintenance, it would provide essential habitat for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Furthermore, it would provide educational opportunities for the students at Wolf Ridge.

The planting day was a huge success. Following the seeding by the Boreal Natives staff, an energetic group of 5th graders was brought in to help install the wildflower plants. After some simple instructions, the students were turned loose to plant species of wildflowers including harebell, pussytoes and long-leaved bluets. As part of the message, the students knew that their work that day would help pollinators for years to come.

Although this project wasn’t large in terms of square footage, its impact will be far-reaching. This is why education is so important – especially when it involves the younger generations. Instilling a sense of environmental responsibility and awareness is of the utmost importance.

And that is why partnerships such as these are so important – opportunities present themselves that would otherwise not be possible. We would like to thank Great River Energy for involving us in this project and we look forward to continued collaboration.

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