Planting Pollinators: Restoring Ecosystems on Solar Sites
Greenbacker’s solar projects do more than just produce clean energy—they also support declining pollinator populations.
Being a good steward of the land is a top priority for Greenbacker Renewable Energy Company and our fleet of sustainable energy projects. A new program at our solar assets is a living example of this mission.
In addition to generating reliable clean power, some of our projects have begun utilizing the land beneath solar panel arrays to support native flora and fauna—as well as the larger local ecosystem—by planting pollinator-friendly vegetation.
Reestablishing local ecology, supporting native pollinators
We’ve partnered with solar developer Encore Renewable Energy and pollinator-habitat installation organization Bee the Change to introduce a variety of native perennial plants under solar panels instead of the turf grass groundcover that is typically installed.
These flowering plants and native grasses create valuable habitat and forage that help support diverse and healthy pollinator populations (such as native bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds), which have been declining due to insecticide use, climate change, and human encroachment. They also contribute to the overall ecological health and biodiversity of the area, as the restored indigenous growth and returning pollinators are a vital part of the life cycle and food chains of many plant and animal species.
The techniques used to prepare the land for this new groundcover tend to vary by geography and site characteristics, but a critical first step involves taking inventory of the existing vegetation on site. If the existing ground cover compliments pollinator-friendly seed, the vegetation and topsoil will remain intact, and the pollinator friendly seed will enhance the already beneficial ground cover. If the existing vegetation is not conducive to the success of the pollinator friendly vegetation, the soil will be tilled to remove the existing vegetation. From there, a sturdy cover crop (typically clover and oats) is planted to outcompete and eliminate any invasive species in the seed bed. This also helps add vital nutrients to the soil before the final pollinator-friendly seed mix is planted.
Once established, the newly introduced greenery provides potential operational advantages for solar project owners. Because these plants require less upkeep than turf grass, which needs to be mowed and regularly maintained, maintenance costs are reduced for the site, more than offsetting upfront planting expenses. The new flora may also create a cooler microclimate beneath the solar arrays, which helps improve panel efficiency.
Planting pollinators at the Catholic Charities solar site in Washington, DC
Soil stability, carbon benefits, and agricultural advantages
Along with reinvigorating pollinator and pollinator-dependent populations, the new vegetation also provides benefits below the surface of the ground and beyond the fence line of a solar facility. The plantings significantly improve soil stability and water quality, as their deeper root systems mitigate erosion, decrease frost heave potential, and reduce stormwater runoff.
These new solar farm plantings also help remove carbon from the atmosphere. The acres of pollinator-friendly groundcover create natural carbon sinks, absorbing substantial amounts of carbon dioxide via photosynthesis and sequestering it in the biomass of the deep-rooted perennial vegetation.
It’s also not uncommon for farmers near these project sites to see increased crop yields. Blueberries in particular are a highly pollinator-dependent fruit. Studies show that blueberry farms located near pollinator-friendly sites generate larger berry harvests thanks to the greater number of pollinatorsventuring over to fertilize the crops.
On solar sites where pollinator-friendly plants won’t optimally benefit the land, we look to introduce flora alternatives that will. For instance, native grasses can provide similar ecological and operational benefits, while also introducing new ones. Such sites can be used as grazing lands for local livestock or provide a combination of pollinator-friendly growth and pastureland. Along with helping to deepen community relations, creating new pasture for rotational grazing can also help reduce mowing costs, build healthy soil, and provide long-term carbon sequestration below ground. Sheep even enjoy the shade provided by the panels (a true win-win for all involved!).
A pipeline of pollinator-friendly sites
On April 22, 2021, Greenbacker joins the rest of the planet in celebrating the 51st annual Earth Day, and we remain committed to facilitating society’s progress toward environmental sustainability every day of the year.
Our pollinator planting initiative is currently in place, or in the pipeline, for 15 projects (representing a renewable energy–generating capacity of 102 MW) across more than 450 acres in five states. And those numbers have been growing steadily. In fact, we recently celebrated a milestone when our fleet of renewable energy projects surpassed 1 GW of total generating capacity.
We’re very excited about the potential ecological and operational benefits pollinator-friendly vegetation can add to our solar sites over the coming growing seasons. And we’re not the only ones: Argonne National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and several other research organizations recently launched a joint project to quantify—and create tools to replicate—the ecological and economic benefits of co-locating pollinator plantings at large-scale solar facilities and are using a number of Greenbacker owned sites to conduct their research.
Through our collaborative relationship with Encore and Bee the Change, we will continue to ensure the successful establishment and maintenance of pollinator habitats on our solar sites. And as we increase our fleet of sustainable infrastructure and energy efficiency projects, we look forward to the additional land stewardship initiatives we can implement by next year’s Earth Day.
 Maria Silveira, Ed Hanlon, Mariana Azenha, and Hiran M. da Silva, Carbon Sequestration in Grazing Land Ecosystems, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, September 2012.
This information has been prepared solely for informational purposes and is not an offer to buy or sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any security, or to participate in any trading or investment strategy. This is a private offering made only pursuant to exemptions provided by Section 4(a)(2) of the Securities Act, Rule 506(b) of Regulation D and applicable state securities laws and solicitation is limited to clients with substantive pre-existing relationships. If any offer of securities is made, it will be pursuant to a definitive offering memorandum prepared by Greenbacker Capital Management LLC (“Greenbacker”) that contains material information not contained herein and which supersedes this information in its entirety. Any decision to invest in the strategy described herein should be made after reviewing a confidential private placement memorandum (“PPM”), conducting investigations and consulting the investor’s own investment, legal, accounting, and tax advisors in order to make an independent determination of the suitability and consequences of an investment. Greenbacker does not provide tax advice. Investors are urged to consult with their own tax advisors regarding an investment in the strategy described herein and the realization of any tax benefits. The information presented herein may involve Greenbacker’s views, estimates, assumptions, facts, and information from other sources that are believed to be accurate and reliable and are, as of the date this information is presented, subject to change without notice. There are material risks associated with investing in alternative Investments including financing risks, general economic risks, long hold periods, and potential loss of the entire investment principal. Potential cash flow, returns and appreciation are not guaranteed Please read the PPM in its entirety, paying careful attention to the risk section prior to investing.
Greenbacker Renewable Energy Company LLC is a publicly reporting, non-traded, limited liability company that acquires and manages income-generating renewable energy projects and other energy-related businesses.
Greenbacker Capital Management LLC. 11 E. 44th St., Suite 1200, New York, NY 10017