- Nov 19, 2021 6:12 pm GMT
A field of ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) arrays may look like clean, renewable energy to most, but for bees and other pollinators it can also look like home. When purposefully planned and maintained, solar generating sites can hold enormous ecological value as a place to co-locate pollinator habitat as they can provide food and nesting sites necessary for the survival of many insects.
Pollinators – the bees, moths, butterflies, and other insects that ensure the survival of many of our plants – are facing degradation, fragmentation, and even elimination of their habitat due to industrial development, manicured lawns, crops, non-native gardens, and use of pesticides. To keep our food supply in ample supply, as well as to support the biodiversity which is necessary to ensure the viability of future generations, we must protect these critical critters. One promising pathway to conservation lies in getting more done with the same acres – such as co-located pollinator habitats with solar arrays.
Around 2015, the concept of a “scorecard” emerged as a way to assess the value of a solar project to a pollinator species. These scorecards were developed and applied independently, meaning there is no singular organization overseeing the methodology or criteria. Recently, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) investigated the differences in these pollinator-friendly scorecards, their relationship to associated programs (including state laws and policy), and the factors influencing scorecard development.
EPRI looked at the 15 available state-specific scorecards and one non-specific scorecard to identify common and differentiating features. Researchers created dashboards to compare documentation elements, methodology, and laws. To better understand the unique motivations and processes that influenced scorecard design, EPRI’s researchers interviewed 34 stakeholders involved in scorecard design, policy development, and use. This included university professors, state agency staff, and solar project developers, owners, and operators. The interviews explored the history of scorecard design, current usage, and future needs of scorecard programs.
View the full report, which includes these dashboards, trends, and other information on EPRI.com (Report #3002022121).
Scoring the Scorecards
In general, the study found a lack of rigor, consistency, and oversight for scorecard design methodology and version control. The scorecard development process varied widely, which could potentially lead to concerns about the scorecards being used as the basis for regulation. Citation of the scorecards in local and state laws, as well as the use of language such as “standards,” may lead to assumptions about the rigor of the scorecards themselves.
Interestingly, none of the scorecards provided guidance on when not to co-locate pollinator habitat. Habitats may not be advisable if they create ecological risk and/or unintentional habitat sinks. An example of this might be the evaluation of a solar site near agricultural land that uses pesticides. If those pesticides drift, it could harm the pollinators that were intentionally drawn to the area.
Other issues EPRI found with the scorecards included the scores reflected plans for the site and not the actual implementation of conservation actions. Most scorecards were completed by self-assessment, which left them open to interpretation without third-party review or additional oversight measures. Field verification would be needed to confirm any correlation between scorecard results and on-site habitat conditions.
Despite the issues, the value and interest in a tool for assessing the benefit of establishing plants that promote pollinator habitat on a solar PV site is clear, as growth in ground-mounted solar is expected to increase dramatically over the next 20 years. As scorecards remain a relatively new tool for determining potential pollinator co-location sites, the next generation may resolve the mismatch between the scorecards themselves, the presumed rigor of cited law, and the larger societal objective to advance a sustainable and equitable energy future.
To learn more about this assessment and other pollinator research, visit EPRI.com/pollinators.
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