Initiative by Minnesota’s largest member-owned electric cooperative is first-of-its kind model for stacking multiple community benefits into solar array sites
(Ramsey, MN) – Connexus Energy’s pollinator-friendly community solar garden is not only producing renewable energy, it is now producing honey. On April 24, 2017, Bolton Bees installed 15 beehives at Connexus Energy’s SolarWise garden in Ramsey, Minnesota and will be managing and expanding the hives throughout the summer.
“We believe our SolarWise solar garden is the first solar garden in the country that will be producing commercially available honey,” says Samantha Neral, Connexus Energy spokesperson. “Following Minnesota’s adoption of a law and statewide standard for pollinator-friendly solar, our array was evaluated and scored well above the level required to call it ‘exemplary pollinator habitat.’ To us, bee hives at a pollinator-friendly solar garden seem like the natural next step. Bolton Bees — with their expertise, professionalism, and commitment to site-specific honey — was the right partner.”
Travis and Chiara Bolton of Bolton Bees, a first-generation business, breed Minnesota-hardy queen bees in addition to producing a line of distinct, location-specific honey that is sold to select restaurants and retailers. “We carefully select properties throughout Minnesota for our apiaries. With its abundance of pollinator-friendly flowers, the Connexus solar garden is the perfect environment for a healthy bee location.”
A Minnesota nonprofit made the initial introduction between Bolton Bees and Connexus Energy. “Fresh Energy is excited to be involved in this innovative partnership,” says Fresh Energy’s Rob Davis. “Connexus Energy’s project is a shining example of what a solar site can and should be. Nationwide, many communities are interested in ensuring the productive use of farm and rural lands — Connexus Energy’s bird- and pollinator-friendly solar array shows that solar sites can be designed and managed in ways that have numerous agricultural and environmental benefits.”
The honey produced at Connexus Energy’s site will be harvested this fall. A portion of the honey will be named SolarWise Honey after Connexus Energy’s successful community solar garden program and will be given to solar garden subscribers and donated to local community fundraising events.
In order to establish an industry standard for honey produced on or adjacent to solar arrays, Bolton Bees has registered a Federal Trademark (Serial # 87406579) for Solar HoneyTM. Their intent is for the mark to be available to all honey producers, electric cooperatives, food companies, and solar businesses willing to agree to the production standard.
About Connexus Energy
Connexus Energy is the largest customer-owned utility in Minnesota providing electricity and related products and services to approximately 130,000 homes and businesses in portions of Anoka, Chisago, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Sherburne, and Washington counties. Additional information about Connexus Energy is available online at connexusenergy.com.
About Bolton Bees
Bolton Bees is a husband and wife company. Chiara and Travis Bolton are queen breeders and sell Minnesota-hardy bees and location-specific honey from throughout Minnesota. The Bolton’s are non-migratory beekeepers and only sell honey that is produced from their hives. The honey is natural and raw, and each honey has a different color, taste, and texture – depending on the flowers in the area. For more information, visit boltonbees.com.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Pollinator-Friendly Solar?
Many solar arrays are being built with turfgrass, and a few are being built with gravel. Pollinator-friendly solar arrays are planted with a biodiverse mix of low-growing and shade-tolerant flowers and grasses.
In 2016, agricultural, conservation, and energy leaders in Minnesota established the nation’s first statewide standard for pollinator-friendly solar. Authored by Representative Rod Hamilton (R–Mountain Lake) and Senator Dan Sparks (DFL–Austin), and passed by the Legislature by a vote of 188-2, MN Statute 216B.1642, has already meaningfully helped Minnesota’s bees, monarchs, pheasants, and songbirds.
Minnesota’s pollinator-friendly solar standard is based on a scorecard developed in consultation with several of the nation’s most experienced and respected entomologists including MacArthur Fellow Dr. Marla Spivak and Dr. Karen Oberhauser. In the standard’s first year, solar sites on land equivalent to more than 1,400,000 homes having a 6’x12’ pollinator gardens were seeded. Connexus Energy’s 1.2 acre solar array scores 100 points — well above the 85-point threshold for “exemplary pollinator habitat.”
A statewide standard, modeled after Minnesota’s scorecard and legislation, recently passed the Maryland Legislature by a vote of 178-0.
What is Solar Honey?
Solar HoneyTM is honey produced from apiaries on or adjacent to pollinator-friendly solar arrays.
Bolton Bees’ intent in registering a Federal Trademark (Serial # 87406579) for Solar HoneyTM is for the mark to be available to all honey producers, electric cooperatives, food companies, and solar businesses willing to agree to the production standard. Bolton Bees has retained legal counsel to assist with trademark licensing.
With its retained counsel, Bolton Bees is forming a B-Corp that will own and administer the Solar HoneyTM trademark. The trademark will be licensed to third parties meeting the following conditions:
Apiary is adjacent or within a pollinator friendly solar array 1 acre or larger;
Solar site in question scores 70+ on a Solar Site Pollinator Habitat Planning and Assessment form;
Producer provides an explanation of the honey extraction and bottling process used to ensure the honey is not mixed with honey from other sources.
The Solar HoneyTM standard encourages the creation of new foraging habitat (under and around ground-mounted solar panels) for a wide variety of pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. Honeybees will forage for nectar and pollen within a 1-3 mile radius of their hives—the percentage of honey produced from flowers on the solar array itself will vary based on the plant species available and the size of the array. Bees tend to not need to fly as far if there is good forage available nearby.
Travis and Chiara Bolton
Who are the other partners involved in Connexus Energy’s solar site apiary?
Fresh Energy, www.fresh-energy.org
An independent energy nonprofit, Fresh Energy’s mission is to shape and drive realistic, visionary energy policies that benefit all. Working purely in the public interest, Fresh Energy’s team of scientists, economists, policy analysts, and educators develops and advances solutions that secure a clean energy future where all can thrive.
Prairie Restorations, www.prairieresto.com
Prairie Restorations, Inc., a regional provider of native seed, plant, and landscape services, manages the solar array vegetation at Connexus Energy as well as for numerous other pollinator-friendly solar arrays in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, and Nebraska.
Prairie Restorations, Inc