There was an article in the July 19 Minneapolis Star Tribune titled “Solar power glows in Minnesota.” The article discussed solar power becoming an increasingly important part of Minnesota’s growing renewable energy mix. There are many benefits from the growing solar power industry.
The solar industry currently employs more than 4,000 Minnesotans. It is one of the fastest growing job sectors in the state of Minnesota.
Solar power is increasingly being seen as a way to decrease education costs. According to Peter Teigland, the interim executive director of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, energy is the second-highest (behind payroll) cost of school systems. Solar systems in schools can bring down energy costs, thus allowing more money for the classrooms. The Minnesota Legislature this spring gave a boost to solar energy in schools with a $31 million appropriation that rewards school districts, community colleges and other solar users. Most of this appropriation is at not cost to taxpayers, as it is funded from a cleanup fund.
Seeing solar energy technology being used on schools will give more students and parents the opportunity to see how solar technology can and should be used. I have been seeing more and more solar panels on businesses and homes in our area. In my opinion, this will just accelerate as we see solar panels in more public spaces and on more public buildings.
There are other benefits from solar farms that have nothing to do with energy. According to a June 2018 article of Public Radio International’s “The World,” native plants have replaced turfgrass and gravel as the go-to bedding for solar gardens in Minnesota, a result of a 2016 state standard that outlines how developers can create pollinator-friendly environments. More than half of the 4,000 acres of solar farms built in 2016 and 2017 feature native plants that not only benefit pollinators but also beautify the site.
Minnesota-based 56 Brewing makes a smooth IPA using honey from hives located on solar farms outside the Twin Cities. The owners of the brewery indicate that the advantage to these solar sites is that they are intentionally planted for pollinators. The brewers indicate that these sites are really trying to get lands back to a native prairie, and that is a benefit to the brewery.
The PRI article indicates Minnesota is in the vanguard of encouraging solar farm developers to grow native plants, but it is far from the only place studying how solar farms can harvest more than just energy. Universities in the United States, Germany and elsewhere are testing the concept of “dual-use farming,” as some advocates call it, where crops grow below canopies of solar panels. They are finding they grow just fine, and in some cases, better than crops in full sun.
Increasing use of solar energy technology seems to be a win for all of us in many ways. I look forward to watching its further development.