Establishing Pollinator Habitat at Solar Farms in North Carolina: A Feasibility Study

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Title: Establishing Pollinator Habitat at Solar Farms in North Carolina: A Feasibility Study
Author: Swanson, Airell
Abstract: SWANSON, AIRELL OAKES. A Feasibility Study: Establishing Pollinator Habitat at Solar Farms in North Carolina. North Carolina’s production of solar energy has undergone rapid growth since the implementation of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2007. As of January 2015, there are 150 solar power generators, or solar farms, in operation in North Carolina (NC). There are plans to increase the capacity in operation from 573 megawatts (MW) to 3034 MW. The average size of solar farms in North Carolina is around 5 MW; a solar farm of this power generating capacity utilizes 42 acres as estimated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) 2012 methods. As more large-scale solar farms are constructed, demands on land use will also continue to rise. Solar farms generally mow as needed throughout the growing season to keep vegetation from shading the solar panels and reducing their efficiency. By mowing, fossil fuels must be burned and large areas of potentially suitable habitat for wildlife are lost. This study addresses how land is being converted to accommodate for solar farms, and the potential for pollinator habitat to be established at solar farms in NC. Feasibility for the establishment of pollinator habitat was assessed based on previous land use, vegetation selection, and cost comparison with current management techniques. Fifty sites were sampled at random from a list of 477 existing and planned solar facilities registered with the North Carolina Renewable Energy Tracking System (NC-RETS) to assess their change in land use. Geographic and zoning information were provided from dockets filed on the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) website and county geographic information system (GIS) parcel data. The results of the sample indicate that the majority of the solar facilities were being constructed on land that was utilized for agricultural purposes. Other former land uses included forestry, landfill, airport, rural residential, industrial and commercial properties. Based on previous land use, alternative vegetation selection, and cost comparison with current vegetation management techniques, the potential to create pollinator habitat at solar farms in North Carolina is likely to be feasible.
Date: 2015
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.4/8663


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