“The New York State Assembly and Senate have unanimously passed an agricultural bill to establish a statewide vegetation standard for solar arrays and provide benefits to numerous stakeholders. The Pollinator-Friendly Solar Act, A08083A/S06339A, was sponsored by Senator Patty Ritchie (R-Oswegatchie) and Assemblyman Bill Magee (D-Nelson).
The legislation establishes a clear path forward for the ground under and around a growing number of solar arrays to be with planted low-growing flowering plants and native grasses—instead of traditional turf grass or gravel—that provide urgently needed habitat for pollinators and birds. Pollinator-friendly landscapes are more resilient to intense downpours and severe droughts and stack multiple functions, providing benefits to pollinators while also adding organic matter and breaking up compacted agricultural soils.
A recent peer-reviewed study, “Examining the Potential for Agricultural Benefits from Pollinator Habitat at Solar Facilities in the United States,” published in Environmental Science & Technology, identified more than 6,400 acres of pollinator-dependent crops close to 166 megawatts of solar arrays throughout New York state.
A 2018 priority bill for the New York League of Conservation Voters, the bill follows similar legislation passed in Minnesota, Maryland, Vermont, and Illinois with coordination from the Center for Pollinators and Energy, a national catalyst, and clearinghouse for state-based initiatives and best practices, located at Minnesota-based Fresh Energy. Spurred by their groundbreaking 2014 Birds and Climate Change report, the National Audubon Society became a catalyzing partner for the state-level push around solar sanctuaries with Fresh Energy in 2016. Audubon continues to partner with Fresh Energy and others around the country to protect birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow.
Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, “We are delighted that our New York State Legislature has passed these companion bills. As pollinator species decline while solar energy projects increase across our state, it is common sense to create standards for solar developers that will protect our farms. An increase in the number of pollinator-friendly solar arrays would benefit pollinators and agriculture, make solar sites more aesthetically pleasing, and help New York develop its renewable energy resources.
“When I signed up my land to be used for a community solar farm, the pollinator component was a clear benefit for my community. The wildflower and grass vegetation create a more attractive land use that significantly helps increase the number of pollinating insects for neighboring farmers as well as improving the soil for future farming generations,” said Richard Murray, who will have a pollinator-friendly solar farm from Eden Renewables.
“Last year alone, New York State beekeepers lost 43 percent of their honey bee colonies,” said Dr. Kirsten Traynor, a honey bee biologist and editor-in-chief, American Beekeeping Journal. “It is our hope that the pollinator solar bill and pollinator-friendly commitments from Cypress Creek Renewables and other developers, will provide important habitat that supports pollinator health, while also increasing awareness of our intertwined relationship to these fragile creatures.”
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Shachar, Sharon. New York League of Conservative Voters 11 June 2018.