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Planting the forage for pollinators in solar fields

 
Sunflowers in sunflower field in front of solar panel field with blue skies overhead.jpeg
 

bee the change is repurposing the unused space in solar fields to support our threatened pollinators.

 

The race against species extinction on our planet is more and more a contest for limited space. The human population has more than doubled in the past 50 years, from 3 billion to 7.5 billion, and will approach 10 billion by 2050.  There are other important threats that butterflies, bees, beetles and other pollinators face- parasites, diseases and pesticides- but the principal and universal stress is the loss of critical habitat. Solar fields present an opportunity to plant the larval host species, forage and shelter to support these overlooked species that are responsible for more than a third of our food supply. The collapse of Apis mellifera, the non-native honey bee, has been widely reported. While some of our solar sites have honey bee hives, our focus is on the thousands of other native and migratory pollinator species that move pollen from plant to plant providing a vital and sustainable reproductive pathway for many of the fruits, vegetables, nuts, and plants we consume, and that thousands of other downstream species depend upon as well.

the story

 

these lovely almond groves have too few pollinators

 
Almond field in rolling hills with green grass below and pink flowers.jpg

few pollinators means few almonds

There are 900,000 acres of almonds in California, and these past years folks have begun trucking in two hives of honeybees per acre to those fields in order to get an almond crop. Imagine 1.8 million hives on trucks from all across the country. Last year 46% of the nation's honey bee hives did not survive the winter, and the almond bloom overlaps with the apple bloom in Oregon and the blueberry bloom in Michigan and Maine. Honey bees are increasingly valuable and scarce. The honey bee is a workhorse as a managed pollinator and is also beset by new diseases and parasites with each passing year. Moving millions of hives into one area for weeks and then distributing them back out across the country may be one of the principle means of propagating these parasites and diseases. Relying on this single, beleaguered species- the honey bee- seems to be an increasingly risky and unsustainable approach.

Bee pollinating a sunflower
Bombus borealis

Bombus borealis

we have 17 species of bumblebees in our region

 

Twenty five years ago we had all 17, now we are down to 10, and of those 7 that are endangered, 4 are gone. Gone. How unusual is that? At the ordinary rate of species loss, if we lost one bumblebee species twenty five years ago we would not expect to lose the 4th until the year 3,400.

Here is Bombus borealis, in one of our first solar fields. It is increasingly uncommon in our region, but not at the South Ridge Solar site. Critical habitat restoration with diverse species can support a diversity of invertebrates, including pollinators. And we have numbers to prove it.

 

our best bet is to support a diversity of pollinators

Hollow wood logs as honeycomb for bees.JPG

founders

Tawnya & Mike Kiernan

Tawnya & Mike Kiernan

Advisors

Charlie Kireker
Co-Founder, Fresh Tracks Capital

Helen Young
Professor of Biology, Middlebury College

Mark Bauhaus
Partner, Just Business

Marjeela Basij-Rasikh
Institute of International Studies

Catherine Collins
Prinipal, MOXIE

Nick Lovejoy
Co-Founder,  Staple Health

Steve Trombulak
Director, Middlebury School of the Environment

Steve Terry
Co-Founder, Worth Mountain Consulting

Tim Parsons (Consulting Plantsman)
Middlebury College

please support these critical critters

Sunflower field with bright yellow sunflowers in the summer with green field and solar panels in background.jpeg