The Sweet Spot Where Pollinator Habitats and Green Energy Meet

pollinator habitats to be increased in minnesota

A new campaign by Minnesota-based non-profit Fresh Energy is addressing two major issues facing environmentalists today: alternative energy and pollinator habitats – and it’s actually kind of genius.

The campaign is the very definition of a win-win situation. By encouraging utility-scale solar developers to plant wildflowers and native grasses on their land, the campaign encourages the return of our pollinator friends, honeybees and monarch butterflies, and draws even more attention to solar power.

This project comes not a moment too soon, as 2,500 of acres of ground-mounted solar are on the brink of being installed in Minnesota over the next two years. This is the prime opportunity to change the way developers think about solar power moving forward.

“Most developers are used to building solar farms in California and Arizona (desert ground cover),” the campaign explains. “In most cases, shipping in gravel is more expensive than dense beds deep-rooted pollinator plants. Native grasses planted under solar arrays won’t only benefit the pollinators we rely on for our food supply, they also help keep water clean by serving as a natural filter for the water in our ecosystem.”

Minnesota’s neighboring North Dakota has seen its honey quotient drop considerably over the past few years, even as it remains the top honey producer in the U.S. North Dakota is responsible for about 23.2 percent of the nation’s total honey production, however, 17,000 colonies were lost in the state between January and March 2016, as compared to 620 for the same period in 2015.

“It’s gotten really hard to keep bees alive,” fourth-generation North Dakota beekeeper John Miller told National Geographic. “On a bad year, we might lose up to 40 percent.”

This widespread loss in North Dakota is attributed in large part to the loss of land that had been set aside for beekeeping since 2006. This land, which belonged to private owners, was left unplowed in exchange for payments for pollinator conservation; now farmers have opted instead to plant lucrative corn and soybean crops for biofuels, leaving bees with nowhere to go.

A 2015 IndieGogo campaign enlisted the help of Dr. Marla Spivak of the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota and Dr. Karen Oberhauser, Professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota, to raise $5,646 – 101 percent of its goal – to increase visibility for the project through marketing and advertising.

So far, developers seem to be fairly receptive to this idea, and other states – like North Carolina and Massachusetts – have been targeted to expand the project.

“We see this is a huge opportunity to get people to like solar a little more,” Rob Davis, director of strategic communications for Fresh Energy, told GreenBiz.

We’re still looking for a downside to this. (Yeah, there isn’t one.)

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Honeybee image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.