Solar Habitat

From National Geographic to the cover of Solar Power World, since 2015 Connexus Energy has been recognized for its solar facility land stewardship practices. It started with our headquarters solar array—initially designed to utilize class 5 gravel under and around the panels, we worked with Connexus member Prairie Restorations to design a low-growing, flowering meadow under and around the panels. The 1-acre project’s success prompted us to make land stewardship a priority for all of our additional solar projects, which now span more than 120 acres growing more than 15 million native and pollinator-friendly plants.

Award-winning filmmaker Jesse Roesler produced a film about this work and national movement. 

Creating habitat for monarchs and other butterflies and native bees among the solar array footprint has also been complimented by the agricultural activity of honey production. Working with the beekeepers at Bare Honey, jars of honey as well as honey sticks are now available for Connexus members and the public to buy from our Member Services desk. Some of this solar harvested honey also makes it into delicious collaborations, such as a summer ale created by Connexus member Invictus Brewing.
The national science and education organization Monarch Joint Venture documented the local benefits provided through Connexus solar land stewardship practices. Survey and sampling protocols were designed in consultation with Argonne National Laboratory, which, in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Lab’s InSPIRE study, has published research on use of native plants as solar array ground cover. Read more about Monarch Joint Venture’s work or watch the webinar where National Monitoring Coordinator Laura Lukens presents her findings. The research indicates that “solar installations in Minnesota can indeed provide quality breeding and foraging habitat for monarchs and other pollinators,” says Lukens.
 Solar Pollinator Habitat
Photo Courtesy Laura Lukens

Further Advancing Best Practices
In spring of 2022 shephard Arlo Christofaro-Hark brought a group of lambs and ewes to Connexus Energy solar garden to help prepare the ground for growing season. The small flock of sheep helped stir up the recently cut grass, push new pollinator-friendly seeds into the ground, and spread a bit of fertilizer. Several Connexus employees stopped by to watch the sheep, pet the sheep dog, and take pictures.

Sustainable agriculture researchers and practitioners from The Land Institute and University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative planted stems of “perennial sunflower” (aka silflower) against the west fence in the area that has hosted honey bees for the past few seasons. These deep-rooted plants are pollinator powerhouses, each producing more than 50 three-inch blooms late in the summer when flowers are scarce.

The targeted grazing and test plot of perennial sunflowers help Connexus evaluate even more ways to stack local benefits into the footprint of solar development, enabling Connexus to have more information about practices that create value for members and landowner partners.