Dan Shaw, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources
Minnesota’s Habitat Friendly Solar Program helps solar site owners install and manage pollinator-friendly habitat within a solar field by suggesting seed mix and management recommendations. This program aims to support pollinator biodiversity by increasing pollinator habitat throughout the state. However, a lack of funding to conduct habitat restoration assessments at these sites to determine if current seed mix and management recommendations are effective means that the establishment success of these pollinator plantings and their ability to support pollinator biodiversity has not been determined. The presence of solar panels alters the environmental conditions within a habitat, impacting the ability of plants to establish and support pollinators, and we need further site assessment to refine current seed mix and management recommendations to be suited for unique solar habitats.
Through conducting habitat restoration assessment at sites enrolled in the Habitat Friendly Solar Program, we can record the plant community composition, management activities, and pollinator communities present within the installed habitat. We can compare the seeding rate of the habitat with the observed plant community composition and management activity to identify which plants seem to thrive in solar habitats, and which cannot tolerate the altered environmental conditions. Pollinator community composition will help us identify which species are not supported by the current habitat installations. All of this information will be used to refine the pollinator seed mixes and management guidelines to be specifically suited for solar habitats, increasing the ability of solar habitats to support pollinator biodiversity.
Refining these habitat standards will help support pollinator biodiversity throughout the state by ensuring habitat installations provide maximum conservation benefits. Minnesota is a leader in pollinator-solar habitat installation, acting as a model for 17 other states, so the results of this project have the potential for a national impact. Additionally, further refinement of these standards and guidelines to cover the increasing variety and scale of solar habitats will broaden the scope of the program, resulting in increased pollinator habitat installation and biodiversity conservation across the state.