Originally written for GreenBiz on June 10th, 2019
Most ground-mount solar projects built in the United States are on gravel, turf or dirt.
And therein lies the Catch-22 of solar projects. The draw of solar is its ability to provide clean power that preserves beautiful landscapes that are in danger from coal mines, oil wells and fracking.
But mounting solar on gravel, dirt or turf ruins the natural ecosystem anyway. When solar was first starting, many engineers didn’t think about birds, bees and butterflies and why they are important. Now, businesses, cities and farmers are trying to do better.
“We shouldn’t be using land management practices with renewable energy projects that degrade natural ecosystems, like using gravel under solar panels instead of native plants,” said Elysa Hammond, senior vice president of environmental stewardship at Clif Bar.
The birds and the bees…and the panels
Surrounding Clif Bar’s 300,000-foot bakery in Twin Falls, Idaho is a five-acre solar array. Instead of gray stones, brown dirt or a green so neon it looks fake, the panels are surrounded by yellows, pinks and lush natural hazels. The reflective solar panels are nestled in a bed of native flowering plants that support pollinators, conserve water and store carbon in the healthy topsoil. This is the emerging model for ground-mounted solar, one that welcomes nature back to the land.
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