Land under and around solar arrays can be planted with bird-friendly and pollinator-friendly native plants: a benefit to agriculture, clean energy, bees and birds.
Audubon Vermont works with renewable energy partners and pollinator advocates to create a Pollinator and Bird Friendly Solar program for properly sited solar arrays. A fundamental shift in energy sources is underway and accelerating across Vermont: electricity produced by solar power is becoming more affordable and common place. This shift to clean and renewable energy is critical for addressing the biggest threat to Vermont birds: climate change. While solar installations on grasslands reduce available bird habitat, if sited properly and landscaped with birds and pollinators in mind, solar facilities can also maintain some key elements of habitat and food for many bird species.
Many solar arrays have been located in landscapes known to support climate threatened birds like the Bobolink, Golden-winged Warbler, and American Woodcock. All energy development has some impact on habitats and wildlife, but the combined impacts of fossil fuel energy extraction, processing and emissions far exceed the impacts on birds from renewable sources of energy. In the big picture, the threat of climate change poses a greater risk to entire species than renewable energy installations generally pose to individual birds. However, it’s crucial to reduce these projects’ impacts on wildlife as much as possible by 1) avoiding impacts to grassland and shrubland birds and pollinators by siting on land that is already developed; 2) if avoidance is not possible, minimizing impacts when siting; and 3) if minimizing and avoidance are not possible, mitigating the loss of habitat.
Properly sited solar arrays can be designed to have benefits for birds and pollinators. In the short term, many birds will benefit from improved habitat on the ground, and in the long-term they will benefit from the shift away from carbon-dependent energy that contributes to climate change. Promoting solar arrays that also improve habitat can bring a powerful constituency - birders - to be advocates for well-sited solar projects and Vermont’s renewable energy goals.
The goals of this effort are threefold.
- First, we want to reduce the effects of climate change on Vermont birds by increasing the amount of properly sited renewable energy being used in Vermont.
- Second, we want to minimize or mitigate the habitat impacts of properly sited solar projects and promote the wide-spread use of bird and pollinator friendly landscaping of approved projects.
- Third, we want Audubon members and bird lovers to become vocal advocates for well-sited solar energy projects.
Properly sited solar sites can have multiple benefits for birds and other wildlife when they are landscaped with native plants that support pollinators and buffering lands are managed in ways that maintain important breeding and foraging habitat features for birds. Using native plants on large plots of land instead of using gravel or turfgrass or regular mowing has numerous benefits:
- Eliminates costly mowing after the first four years of the project’s 20-25 year lifetime
- Reduces mowing to no more than once a year decreases the amount of fossil fuels used at the site. improving the strength of topsoil and channels storm water runoff from the site and adjacent agricultural fields down into the aquifer
- Increases demand for native seeds and plants can support local nursery businesses
- Reduces application of insecticides
Are you installing solar at your farm, home or business and want to be sure it's friendly to birds and pollinators?
Here's how to get started:
- Step 1: Contact a qualified pollinator expert (see List of Participating Consultants - scroll to the bottom of the page)
- Step 2: Make sure consultants use the VT Scorecard in their planning and budget to ensure that the site can be considered pollinator-friendly
- Step 3: Work with already established pollinator seed mixes and suggested native shrubs and plants for screening around solar arrays.
- New England Sample Pollinator Seed Mix – Xerces (PDF)
- Audubon's Native Plant Database - choose "shrubs" as your plant type
- Take a look at Audubon Vermont's Native Plant List for Solar Screens and Buffers.
- Step 4: Consider building in an annual assessment plan like this Sample Pollinator Survey Tool (PDF)
- Step 5: Once you’ve finished your pollinator seeding/plantings, post your completed scorecard on your website to say you’ve joined the Pollinator-Friendly Solar Initiative!
What's Your Pollinator-Friendly Score?
Pollinator-Friendly Solar Initiative of Vermont partners:
- Gund Institute for Ecological Economics
- Audubon Vermont
- Energy Action Network
- University of Vermont Extension
- Bee the Change
- Renewable Energy Vermont
- Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
- Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets
- Fresh Energy