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Which Solar Future Do You Want?

A movement is growing across the country to replace standard turf grass at solar sites with flowering native plants that are beneficial to pollinators, birds, and other wildlife.

More than 400 Audubon NC supporters submitted comments to the North Carolina Utilities Commission asking that the Commission require landscaping plans for all solar farm proposals. Audubon North Carolina submitted the following letter to the Commission on January 5, 2018:

Dear North Carolina Utility Commissioners:

With significant benefits to local communities, a movement is growing across the country to replace standard turf grass at solar sites with flowering native plants that are beneficial to pollinators, birds, and other wildlife.

In North Carolina, the state’s largest solar developers including Strata Solar and Cypress Creek Renewables have begun incorporating pollinator-friendly native plants at their solar sites, and agricultural leaders like Perdue Farms have prominently made the case for flowering native plants at solar sites. Several states also now have “pollinator-friendly solar” scorecards that provide guidance and disclosure of various vegetation management strategies.

According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, “Pollination is critical to the success of North Carolina’s $78 billion agricultural economy…Pollinators are in trouble…The best way to reverse this is a multi-step approach to support pollinators through expanding and protecting habitats on the farm and protecting pollinators.” Pollinator-friendly landscaping at solar sites can help boost populations of bees, butterflies, and birds and benefit adjoining farms, helping to address concerns from some state and local lawmakers about the impacts of solar farms on rural, agricultural communities.

A key element of the recently enacted House Bill 589 (S.L. 2017-192) is the establishment of a new Competitive Procurement of Renewable Energy (CPRE) program that will result in a significant amount of new utility-scale solar in the state. The law also provides that a third-party entity shall develop and publish the methodology that will be used to evaluate the responses received by solar developers.

While we appreciate the multiple economic factors that were included in Duke Energy’s initial CPRE Program Guidelines, an opportunity was missed to include solar site landscaping plans — including identification of use of flowering native plants and other measures beneficial to pollinators at solar sites — as noneconomic evaluation factors for solar project proposals.

Incorporation of pollinator-friendly native plants on solar farms is consistent with the cost effectiveness requirements of the Commission given the fact that landscaping budgets are small relative to the overall scope of a solar project and that native plants, once established, require greatly reduced mowing, irrigation, and fertilizer costs compared to conventional turf grass. Native plants also have deeper root systems, which reduce stormwater runoff and erosion, and improve water quality.

We urge the Commission and the Independent Administrator to require solar site landscaping plans as part of their CPRE project submissions, including how the site may incorporate native plants and other measures that can be beneficial to pollinators. Vegetation and land management practices have the opportunity to create tremendous public benefit and meet least cost requirements. Increasing the transparency of these practices and allowing leading companies to highlight their use of pollinator-friendly native plants will maximize the public benefit of the new CPRE program.

Sincerely,

Audubon North Carolina

Cape Fear Audubon Society

Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society

Forsyth Audubon

High Country Audubon Society

Mecklenburg Audubon Society

New Hope Audubon Society

T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Society

Wake Audubon Society

Blue Ridge Chapter of the North Carolina Native Plant Society

Southeast Coast Chapter of the North Carolina Native Plant Society

Western NC Chapter of the North Carolina Native Plant Society

Wildflower Club of Winston-Salem

Transylvania County Bird Club

Carolina Butterfly Society

Xerces Society

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