By Jerald Pinson
Florida Museum 

Solar Farms Provide a Model for Mixed-Use Land Management

 

Last updated 12/6/2023 at 3:49pm

Jeff Gage/Florida Museum

Florida is home to several native and unique species of milkweed, including this pinewoods milkweed (Asclepias humistrata), which inhabits dry upland areas in North Central Florida and the Panhandle.

The expansion of solar farms across the U.S. is similarly creating an abundance of bright, open spaces that require regular upkeep. Unused areas near the solar arrays are increasingly being viewed as prime real estate for growing native flowering plants that support pollinators.

Duke Energy Florida recently completed construction of a new solar site in High Springs, Florida, and approached Daniels to see if he'd be willing to conduct a feasibility study that would assess plant selection, establishment, survival, time to bloom, bloom abundance and overall cost.

For this project, Daniels will be planting a variety of native wildflower species. In determining which plants to test, he'll use a combination of previous experience, cost-benefit analyses and a long list of potentially suitable species included in an upcoming solar toolkit published by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. From there, Daniels and his team will find themselves in a somewhat unexplored frontier.

There's no end to available resources that aid homeowners in growing an effective pollinator garden. However, very few studies, especially in the Southeast, have tested how best to establish larger-scale pollinator habitat in this type of landscape.

According to Daniels, most of the information that does exist is anecdotal and not broadly applicable to a wide region. Even the most basic questions, like how many seeds to sow and in what proportions, are still open-ended.

By project's end, Daniels' team will help generate more rigorous recommendations that can be broadly applicable to the southeast U.S.

Courtesy Duke Energy

Duke Energy Florida recently opened a solar site in High Springs, Florida, which it hopes will double as a source of clean energy and a haven for native wildflowers and pollinators.

"Duke Energy wants something they can apply not just to this particular solar site, but to other sites throughout their Florida service territory," Daniels said. "We can give them something backed by data on how they can do this better and more effectively, to benefit the pollinators and also maximize their impact."

"Duke Energy is excited to work with the Daniels lab at the Florida Museum of Natural History to discover best practices for successful pollinators at our solar facilities," said Melissa Seixas, Duke Energy Florida state president. "Duke Energy is committed to environmental stewardship and ensuring we do everything we can to preserve and enhance pollinator habitats that are vitally important to our ecosystems and the health of our planet."

"This work will help us understand how to prepare our facilities to have a healthier and more thriving environment for the monarch butterfly and other declining species," Seixas said.

 

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