Global renewables company Enel Green Power has installed 16 solar farms across Minnesota, but their arrays look a little different than others you find across the US. Instead of bare earth or gravel beneath the panels, you can find pollinator-friendly plants and grazing sheep.
Recognizing the importance of protecting pollinators, Minnesota has set the standard for pollinator-friendly vegetation at solar sites. Their sites feature pollinator-friendly grasses, sedges, and wildflowers for bees, butterflies, and other insects to seek refuge in. The state passed legislation 2016 designating what qualifies as pollinator-friendly plants to prevent greenwashing and encourage more green energy companies to green up their operations even further.
Laura Lukens, the monitoring coordinator for the Monarch Joint Venture, has been tracking the efficacy of Enel’s planting initiatives. She reports monarch breeding at every single solar site she visits, but it’s not just the insects that benefit from the plants. The vegetation improves solar output by cooling the panels and helps rejuvenate the soil on site. The sheep serve to naturally turn over the earth and clear out dead foliage, creating a naturally circular system of grazing and regrowth.
Enel hopes their Minnesota sites will serve as a model for other green energy companies. They’re working to expand their operations to demonstrate how solar energy, planting, and livestock can coexist to create a symbiotic relationship. Their next project will be in Texas where they aim to raise solar panels far enough off the ground to graze cattle underneath them.
Image source: Enel Green Power