Guest post from Save the Bees campaign associate Malia Libby
When you picture a solar farm, what do you see? You might imagine rows of rectangular blue-tinged panels stretching low and wide. These increasingly familiar panels are a hallmark of clean energy production. As solar panels are, after all, the main attraction of a solar farm for people, you may not have paid much attention to picturing the ground below. Short turf grass and gravel that often sits below solar arrays at these sites aren’t much to look at, but with some changes, these places can blossom into safe havens for wildlife.
A bill which just passed the Texas Senate proposes the exact kind of program that can make solar sites hotspots for essential pollinators, such as bees, while continuing to produce carbon-free energy for Texas.
SB 1772, introduced by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, establishes the Texas Pollinator-Smart program to encourage the creation and maintenance of habitat for bees, birds and other pollinators at solar energy sites. To do this, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension would provide educational materials and technical assistance to those participating or interested in the program. These resources are especially helpful for assessing the suitability of a solar site and the types of vegetation would be most beneficial.
As bees suffer from the loss of healthy habitat, this program encourages and supports the creation of areas where Texas’ 800 species of native bees can thrive. As nearly a quarter of native bee species are facing increasing risk of extinction, unlocking yet another benefit from solar farms is a step towards protecting biodiversity.
And as it turns out, what helps bees also helps solar farms and the surrounding community. Native vegetation, such as wildflowers, require less mowing and a lush green landscape keeps panels cooler, which helps them produce more electricity. With more sources for nectar and pollen available, more bees can be supported by the area, additionally giving surrounding farms an extra boost in pollination. Among the other benefits of pollinator habitat on solar sites are reduced soil erosion and greater groundwater replenishment.
For migratory species like the monarch butterfly, pollinator-friendly solar can offer these creatures places to rest and recharge, essentially serving as pit stops for the long journey.
Many of the resources needed to help solar sites transition will be created through SB1772. Information on benefits to producers and neighboring landowners, compatible native plant species, and methods to eliminate invasive species without causing harm to pollinators would be created as a part of the program.
To create a standard that helps producers and the public assess how bee-friendly a site is, the bill’s program also will develop the Texas Pollinator-Smart scorecard. A certificate will be granted to those sites that achieves the necessary score determined by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.
Already, seven states have put laws into practice to promote pollinator habitat on solar sites. With SB1772, solar energy sites in Texas can become hubs for pollinators and save the bees. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.