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REV Members Celebrate Pollinator Week and the Ecosystem Benefits of Solar

by | Jun 24, 2021

Montpelier, VT – Renewable Energy Vermont celebrates the fifteenth annual Pollinator Week, June 21-27, an international celebration promoting the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, beetles, and other pollinating insects. By utilizing the land under and around solar arrays for native, pollinator-friendly plantings, Vermont’s solar businesses are playing a significant role in re-establishing critical pollinator habitat and supporting vital pollinator species.

Mike Kiernan of Bee the Change tending a honeybee hive at Encore Renewable Energy’s Magee Hill pollinator-friendly solar project.

Middlebury-based REV Member Bee the Change works closely with the Vermont solar community to restore pollinator habitat across the state. Founder Mike Kiernan notes, “We are teaming up with the most forward-thinking renewable leaders who want to see the space be doubly useful, to address the climate crisis and the crisis of species loss. We began a few years ago in a field just south of Middlebury. Currently, we have created new habitat equivalent to every Vermont household making a 8’x 8’ pollinator garden. And they should, too!”

In recent years, increased use of pesticides and habitat loss have led to a dangerous collapse of pollinator populations worldwide, including here in Vermont. A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Vermont and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies found that nearly half of Vermont’s known bumble bee species have either vanished or are in serious decline. A 2020 Rutgers study showed that the decline of bees and other pollinator species is already reducing crop yields for apples, cherries, and blueberries across the US.

Pollinators are a crucial part of any ecosystem, and their loss has spurred action across many sectors, including Vermont’s renewable energy sector. “Pollinator-friendly solar is the perfect example of a successful triple bottom line endeavor.” said Chad Farrell, Founder and CEO of Encore Renewable Energy, a REV Member with over 40 acres of pollinator-friendly solar in their project portfolio to date and over 200 additional acres planned over the next 12-18 months. “We are creating environmentally sustainable ground cover that improves soil quality, increases carbon sequestration, and reduces runoff, channeling stormwater back into underlying aquifers, while also addressing the social importance of supporting healthy food systems. These impacts extend beyond the boundaries of each of these solar projects to support other species who rely on strong pollinator populations including birds, fish, other animals and, ultimately, all of us as well.”

Pollinator-friendly solar by Encore Renewable Energy at Magee Hill in Hinesburg, VT.

Planting pollinator-friendly vegetation in and around solar installations helps restore declining species and improve crop yields. Shade from solar panels increases the abundance of flowers and delays bloom times, creating food sources for late foragers and pollinators in drier areas. Data collected at Bee the Change locations confirms other research findings. Before being planted with pollinator habitat, Encore’s Magee Hill project hosted 21 pollinator species. By year three of pollinator ground cover, it hosted 304!

Taylor Ricketts, Director of the Gund Institute for Environment at UVM and an international expert in wild pollinators lauded the efforts of Vermont solar to expand pollinator habitat. “Two-thirds of the world’s most important crops benefit from bees and other pollinators, including several mainstays of Vermont farmers markets: blueberries, apples, pumpkins, melons, and tomatoes,” he noted. “This is a chance to expand renewable energy while supporting our crucial pollinators. The arrays are gorgeous contributions to the landscape as well!”

Several Vermont businesses and organizations have committed to pollinator-friendly practices, including REV Members Acorn Energy Co-op, Aegis Renewable Energy, All Earth Renewables, Catamount Solar, EDF Renewables, Encore Renewable Energy, Green Lantern Group, Grassroots Solar, Green Mountain Power, and VSECU. These Vermont businesses and their landowner partners are creating win-win-win strategies for clean energy, agriculture, and pollinator ecosystems.

There are easy ways to protect our pollinators even without the ability to plant pollinator-friendly ground cover. For $0.11/square foot, Bee the Change will offset your footprint by planting habitat equal to the square footage of your residential or business space. Several of Vermont’s leading B-Corps have already signed on, as have over 200 other organizations and individuals.

Guidance is available from the UVM Extension office for landowners hosting solar projects. Businesses planning new solar projects are encouraged to take the pollinator pledge and complete a Pollinator Scorecard to provide transparent guidance for vegetative management plans using pollinator-friendly plants.

For more information, visit Renewable Energy Vermont at https://www.revermont.org/resources/pollinatorsolar/ or Bee the Change at https://www.beethechangehoney.com/.

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