Session C8.1

Monitoring Ecological Performance of Pollinator Habitat at Solar Energy Facilities

Laura Fox

8:00 – 8:30 AM ET

About the Presentation

Large-scale solar energy development in the United States is expected to greatly increase over the next few decades which could require as much as 10 million acres of land to meet future deployment targets (U.S. Department of Energy 2021). It is therefore important to implement environmental impact reduction measures and synergize these developments with other land uses. One method to improve the environmental compatibility of large-scale solar facilities is co-locating solar facilities with native habitat restoration. Often, this practice focuses on the establishment and management of native pollinator-friendly vegetation at solar energy facilities ("solar-pollinator habitat").

Previous research by this group investigated the potential benefits of solar-pollinator habitat to agricultural productivity and other ecosystem services such as carbon storage and soil conservation (Walston et al. 2018; Walston et al. 2021). That work suggests the U.S. currently has about 3,500 km2 of agricultural land near solar facilities where crop productivity may be improved if solar facilities are planted with flowers and grasses that support native pollinators. The addition of pollinator habitat at solar facilities may benefit both local ecosystems and solar energy production. Potential ecosystem service benefits can include increased biodiversity, stormwater and erosion control, improved soil quality and retention, carbon storage, and agricultural benefits. Potential benefits for solar facilities include decreased operation and maintenance costs, and higher panel efficiency in comparison with other ground cover options. Under the Department of Energy's InSPIRE 2.0 project, we are continuing to investigate various ways to reduce the environmental impacts of utility-scale solar development that may be provided by native plantings at solar facilities.

The research includes test plantings at solar facilities in various regions of the U.S., as well as measuring changes in the types and abundance of pollinators before and after establishing pollinator supportive plantings such as native wildflowers and grasses. Various wildflower and grass seed mixes were planted in 2018 at some of the project's partner solar facilities and have been observed to identify the most successful mixes. Pollinator communities at the facilities are being monitored as the pollinator habitats mature. Preliminary results show increased diversity and abundance of pollinators over time. Pollinator activity is also being monitored in nearby agricultural fields to determine the extent to which the new solar pollinator habitats may be providing increased pollination services to nearby pollinator-dependent crops. Preliminary results indicate up to three times more bees in the crops directly adjacent to the solar facilities in comparison to control areas, however, additional observations are needed. Bird and bat monitoring is being added at some of the sites and soil samples will be collected for TOC analysis.

This presentation discusses the findings of this ongoing research as data collection will continue through the summer of 2024.

About the Speaker

Laura Fox
Natural Resource Specialist
Argonne National Laboratory

Laura is a Natural Resources Specialist at Argonne National Laboratory. She has worked on regional mitigation projects for utility-scale solar facilities and performs field data collection for this pollinator habitat study at solar energy facilities in the Midwest.

Session C8.2

East River Marsh Habitat Enhancement

Preetam Kuchikulla, PE

8:30 – 9:00 AM ET

About the Presentation

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) upgraded Beaver Island State Park (Grand Island, NY) by implementing the East River Marsh (ERM) Habitat Enhancement project. The ERM project improved both natural ecosystems and public access to enjoy the state park. Our firm supported NYSOPRHP in their effort. The project was completed in two phases with the hard-structural features installed in the fall, and plantings completed in the spring to allow optimum growing period. The design included:

  • Restoring and improving habitats of two off-river features (pond and ferry slip) with native plantings and providing protection for young fish.
  • Installing five reefs designed to prohibit the growth of invasive vegetation, provide fish breeding and protection habitat, and require less long-term maintenance, while providing wave protection to the shoreline.
  • Expanding public access to the Niagara River shore from the park's adjacent kayak/canoe launch site and achieving 2,600 feet of uninterrupted and protected shoreline. 
  • Restoring and expanding an existing shoreline trail to connect two park areas and provide access to the Niagara River for bird watching and other recreational activities.

The design included the use of pre-planted and established vegetation planting bags to provide for safer installation with increased efficiency. We also were able to reuse excavated sediment from the off-river features to reclaim low areas in the state park. This allowed for easier maintenance of grounds and reduced project costs. The project also restored and expanded an existing trail and improved public access to the Niagara River for bird watching and other recreational activities. The ERM area is subject to wave erosion.  To protect from this, as part of the design a wave analysis of wind-generated waves from a three-mile fetch and boat generated waves to design features to reduced wave energy exerted on the shoreline.

Building off lessons learned from a nearby late 1990s habitat project, the rock reef elevations were set lower to the water surface to reduce maintenance requirements and prevent establishment of invasive plant species. The sustainable design of low-height rock reefs provides wave protection for the shoreline. The design naturally prohibits the growth of invasive vegetation, provides fish breeding and protected habitat, and requires less long-term maintenance than traditional rock reef designs. The ERM project also expanded public access to the shores of the Niagara River from the park's adjacent kayak/canoe launch site, increasing recreational use. The reefs provide shoreline protection and habitat and increased the protected area for kayak and canoe enthusiast from Niagara River waves. The state park's visitation increased after the ERM project was completed and has become a very popular waterfront destination.

About the Speaker

Preetam Kuchikulla, PE
Lead Consultant, Environmental Engineer

Preetam Kuchikulla manages ecological restoration designs for streams and rivers, wetlands, habitat restoration implementation, and watershed analysis. Preetam has managed multiple projects and has been involved in projects requiring alternative analyses; provides modeling for groundwater, hydraulic modeling; sediment transport analysis; and conceptual designs, intermediate, and final designs. He has also extensive experience supporting and leading remedial investigation/feasibility studies, remedial design/remedial action programs, construction management, and remedial system operation and maintenance programs.


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