How a vegetation management plan can help save the environment—and your solar project

By: Maureen O’Shea Stone, Botanist and Senior Project Manager

Did you know that one in every three bites of food you take is the result of plant pollination? Unfortunately, the pollinators we depend upon for our food are in global decline.

While there is no single cause for this, one factor is the loss of pollinator habitat and food sources. Vegetation management at solar power sites is an opportunity to transform these facilities into thriving plant communities. These islands of biological diversity support habitat for pollinator species, birds, and other wildlife while enhancing a solar facility’s economic efficiencies.

With 45 years of experience in designing, implementing, and monitoring the results of vegetation management plans, I’ve found that a thoughtful vegetation management plan plays a crucial role in effective solar project operations. It’s also important in supporting numerous ecological service goals, including those required by different permitting jurisdictions.

The importance of having a revegetation design early on

Integrating thoughtful revegetation design and management concepts early in the project planning process provides the most comprehensive and cost-effective benefits. Our Atwell team of botanists, plant ecologists, and landscape architects provide a turnkey vegetation management plan service that includes planning early goals, addressing permitting agency concerns, project designs and layouts, on-site construction support, and monitoring. We provide efficient project operations as well as answer questions, support agency permitting concerns, and make recommendations for vegetation establishment and sustainable ecosystem function. All of these factors are components of a solid vegetation management plan.

An initial site assessment identifies existing vegetation and soils, surrounding land uses, and existing weed issues. Planning and implementing project site preparation, such as pre-construction weed control, topsoil identification and preservation, and the installation of appropriate stormwater and erosion controls, is essential to success.

Species selection for revegetation seed mixes is a critical factor for meeting project goals, like creating pollinator habitat, as well as addressing site-specific conditions to guarantee the new plant community successfully germinates and establishes. If done properly and early, site preparation and the correct seed mix selection will allow the area to revegetate itself.

Operations vegetation control methods limit plant height to not interfere with solar panel efficiencies. These methods also provide required weed control and help maintain the desired plant community. These methods may include different types of pest management, such as mechanical (mowing, trimming), chemical (herbicides), biological (grazing animals), or integrated pest management.

A vegetation management plan can improve solar project efficiency

I’m continually fascinated by plants, their ecology, and the innovative opportunities they provide for us, with one of those benefits being a complement to clean energy solutions. Here are three ways a well-thought-out vegetation management plan can benefit your solar project:

1. Enhance solar panel efficiency: Overgrown vegetation can cast shadows on solar panels, reducing their efficiency. By managing vegetation, the solar panels can receive maximum sunlight exposure, optimizing energy generation and increasing the project’s overall productivity.

2. Sequester more carbon than turfgrass or bare ground treatments: In the Midwest, a solar-native grassland strategy has a potential carbon storage capacity that is 65% greater than agriculture and 35% greater than a solar-turfgrass scenario.

3. Encourage biodiversity: While the plan focuses on managing vegetation near the solar panels, it can also create wildlife-friendly habitats in surrounding areas. Promoting biodiversity and ecological balance can benefit the local environment and support your company’s sustainability goals.

Community and cost benefits of a vegetation management plan

Beyond improving the environment, incorporating pollinator-friendly habitats into your solar facility offers many other benefits. These benefits include:

– Cost-effectiveness: Well-managed vegetation can lead to increased solar panel efficiency and energy production, making the overall project more financially viable. The wrong vegetation (too tall or non-native) can lead to bigger problems in the long run. This begins as early as the seed selection. If done properly and early, the seed and the ground will do the work itself.

– Community relations: Vegetation cover on a solar facility is often the first thing the public notices about a site. By investing in a comprehensive vegetation management plan, solar companies can demonstrate their commitment to environmental responsibility and community well-being. This can help foster positive community relations and enhance the company’s reputation.

– Increased safety: Maintaining a safe working environment for maintenance and inspections is crucial for solar project personnel. Investing in planned and regular vegetation maintenance to limit vegetation height and thatch build-up reduces the risk of fire and potential liability costs.

– Capital incentives for regulatory compliance: Some capital incentives may be tied to compliance with specific government regulations related to vegetation management. These vary from state to state, but could include tax credits and incentives, renewable energy credits, grants and funding, carbon credits and offset programs, conservation easements, and regulatory compliance assistance.

– Environmental stewardship: Companies can receive financial support from the government for vegetation management practices that prioritize ecological conservation and promote biodiversity. This can be used to employ sustainable and environmentally friendly methods, ensuring that their solar projects positively contribute to local ecosystems.

Overall, a detailed, well-thought-out vegetation management plan demonstrates a company’s commitment to sustainable practices and responsible land use. I never cease to be amazed at the capacity of plants to accomplish so much for the human species.

Vegetation management supports the implementation of environmentally responsible practices, enhanced energy production, and contributes to the overall success and sustainability of solar projects. By having a design planned and implemented early on, you can avoid unnecessary costs and produce a more sustainable and successful project.

Environmental, Featured, Oil & Gas, Power & Energy, Real Estate & Land Development
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