Growing solar initiatives have opened a door to incorporate better land use practices. With pollinator populations declining globally, solar arrays present a potentially win-win opportunity.
In a recent example, solar power provider, ES Services Company (ESS) — a subsidiary of CMS Energy — completed solar arrays at three sites throughout Michigan. ESS collaborated with Golder, a WSP company, to design and maintain a pollinator habitat, which doubles the sustainable impact of its solar array by helping to battle declines in valuable pollinator populations.
Our team created a sustainable plan to reintroduce native grasses, plants and flowers to the site. Beyond providing nectar for adult pollinators, the native grass and forb habitat also provide necessary host plants as food for caterpillars, and the native plants also provide shelter for overwintering so another generation of pollinators can be established the following spring.
At one of the sites however, early successional weed species had become established by the time construction was completed. Potentially threatening the successful germination and growth of the reintroduced native plants. The site was an organic farm, so the use of herbicides was not an option. And mowing the weeds would also be expensive and would compete with the desire to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
To meet the challenge, our team found a sustainable and organic method to eradicate the invading weeds: domestic sheep.
Approximately 20 sheep were used for vegetation management on the solar power property during the summer months and will likely return in the spring to graze on emerging weeds, giving the seeded native pollinator species a greater opportunity to establish.
Our team will continue to monitor the pollinator habitat’s establishment. The sheep are expected to be an ongoing part of the vegetation management program for the approximate 20-year lifespan of the panels. Providing a variety of benefits to the site from weed management, to ground aeration from their hooves, and finally fertilization.