While a touch ironic, it makes sense that renewable energy harvesting areas could have adverse effects on the ecosystem and wildlife nearby. Given that there are two plans in Southern California on the docket that will take up 5,000 acres per project, the need for study is increasing. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has 31 projects in “fast track” review, and if they’re even a portion of the size of the two in California, they are still massive plots of land. Also, three quarters of U.S. states have adopted some form of renewable energy standard, most of them with aggressive timelines, which means increased size and scope of landmass covered in solar panels in the ensuing years.
What Pollutes the Solar Site?
It is not uncommon for a new solar installation site to be graded, sprayed with chemical weed control (even organic weed control would be only so good) and then shaded. Gravel is the alternative to weed control, but the trapped heat does shorten the life of the solar array, and since many solar farms are in hot, arid regions, it may not be the best way to go. Arid solar arrays are the primary environmental concern due to the consensus that the plants are adapted to direct sunlight and already live in harsh conditions.
Research is being conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at its newest array in the National Wind Technology Center in Boulder, CO, where prairie is the main ecosystem being impacted. Here, the primary concern is prairie dogs and prairie grasses, which are almost symbiotic in their life cycles. Birds of prey, including eagles, could also be affected by the lost hunting grounds. The NREL has left areas untouched near the solar array, which will hopefully help to reseed the ground, in addition to spreading a grass seed mixture beneath the array to help prevent erosion. The NREL is also conducting wildlife studies in comparison with the control site, a similar ecosystem currently left untouched.
Says NREL Senior Biologist Brenda Beatty: “The experiments will begin to give us a handle on how PV installations and operations affect vegetation in our portion of the arid West, and the information obtained may be useful for other NREL projects, and for revegetation efforts at other solar installations.” The NREL is also conducting research on how wind turbines and meteorological towers affect birds and bats.
To read more, visit the NREL website here.
Photo Credit: Treehugger