vegetated buffer around solar arrays
Diverse buffer around solar arrays

What is Habitat Friendly Solar?

This program promotes the planting and management of wildlife habitat with an emphasis on pollinator, songbird, and gamebird benefits on solar projects. This effort was initiated to comply with Minnesota legislative requirements stating that “an owner of a solar site implementing solar site management practices may claim that the site provides benefits to gamebirds, songbirds and pollinators only if the site adheres to guidance set forth by the pollinator plan provided by the Board of Water and Soil Resources” (Minn. Stats. 216B.1642). Local governments and other landowners, as well as solar developers, can work toward meeting the standards. Some municipalities are also requiring that ground mounted solar projects are meeting Habitat Friendly standards to help ensure that projects are providing multiple landscape benefits and are maintained for the lifespan of the project.

Program Updates

BWSR is currently in the process of updating the project assessment forms and guidance listed below, based on feedback from stakeholders and information from site inspections. Our goal is to ensure that the forms meet program objectives and to recognize the highest-quality projects with a "gold standard." The updated forms will be posted here by mid-April. 

Habitat Friendly Solar Summit Presentations

In February 2020, BWSR and nonprofit partners Fresh Energy and Great Plains Institute, as well as the DNR and Institute on the Environment (UMN) convened a Solar Habitat Summit, hosted by Connexus Energy. About 80 attendees from counties, conservation districts, solar developers, native landscape designers and state agencies participated. Presentations are linked below.

Introduction to Habitat Friendly Solar - BWSR (pdf)

Solar Development in Minnesota - Great Plains Institute (pdf)

Ecosystem Value Stacking of Solar - Institute of the Environment (University of Minnesota) (pdf)

Pollinator-Friendly Solar - Fresh Energy (pdf)

Prairie Establishment and Maintenance Technical Guidance - DNR (pdf)

Solar in Stearns County (pdf)

Habitat Friendly Solar and the Local Ordinance - BWSR (pdf)

Habitat Friendly Solar Program - Assessment and Forms - BWSR (pdf)

Habitat Friendly Solar Summit Polling Results (pdf)

Steps for Meeting and Maintaining Standard Requirements

1) For design guidance refer to the DNR's Prairie Establishment & Maintenance Technical Guidance for Solar Projects (pdf) and BWSR's Sample Habitat Friendly Solar Planting Plan Specifications (pdf) and Sample Specifications for Solar Projects (pdf), and work with experts in the field of habitat restoration  

2) Fill out the Project Planning Assessment Form (pdf).

3) Submit the Project Planning Assessment Forms with images of the proposed site and a copy of the planting plan for the project and any supplemental long term management plans and communication to protect the site from pesticide drift (see details in the assessment form) to local government staff who have approval responsibilities for the project, or to dan.shaw@state.mn.us if local staff are not involved. Local staff who are approving projects will then coordinate with BWSR.

4) If projects meet the requirements listed above they will be added to a list of projects meeting requirements posted on the Board of Water and Soil Resources website and will be able to promote the array as a MN Board of Water and Soil Resources “Habitat Friendly Solar” project.

Steps to continue meeting the standard and remaining on the state list of projects

1) Projects need to be inspected yearly to identify any management needs.

2)At the end of the third year of vegetation establishment (by December 31st) for the project, and every three years afterwards, have qualified natural resource staff with plant ID knowledge fill out the Established Project Assessment Form (pdf) and submit the form along with at least three site images that show the current vegetation to local government staff who have approval responsibilities for the project or other BWSR-designated representatives. Submitting these materials will keep you on the list of projects meeting standards and enable you to promote the array as a MN Board of Water and Soil Resources “Habitat Friendly Solar” project. In addition to the full assessment being conducted every three years, yearly site inspections will be important to identify issues with weeds, erosion or other problems that need to be addressed. If projects have significant problems, additional discussion about potential solutions may be needed between project managers, local government staff and BWSR to ensure that projects can remain on the list of projects meeting standards.


Q & A

Who can fill out the assessment forms and conduct the site assessments?

Independent contracting ecologists or SWCD staff who have strong plant identification skills can conduct the assessment.

How many acres can a single form cover?

One assessment form can be used for most contiguous sites, though more than one form may be needed for sites that have varying soil conditions across the site and/or upland and wetland plant communities that are significantly different in their composition, or sites that occur at multiple locations, when each site is greater than 20 acres including perimeter acreage.

For the “Project Planning Assessment Form”, where can I find more information about determining if the genetic origin of seed is within 175 miles?  

See BWSR’s Native Vegetation Establishment and Enhancement Guidelines (pdf) for more information on this topic as well as other topics related to seed quality and vegetation establishment.

What areas can be excluded from assessment areas?

Certain areas do not need to be included as part of the habitat assessments; these include roads, parking areas and buildings. Some sites have wetland areas that are dominated by aggressive invasive species including reed canary grass or hybrid/narrow-leaf cattail that is too difficult to convert to native vegetation. As long as these areas are mapped as separate from the planted areas they can be left out of the assessment.

What monitoring methods should be used for site assessments?

Qualified natural resource staff who are conducting the assessments should select a monitoring method that will provide an unbiased assessment that will be representative of the entire site rather than select portions of the site. Timed meanders or transects are common vegetation monitoring methods.

What if it is determined that a site no longer meets standards?

If sites no longer meet standards it is recommended that you work with contractors to assess what changes are needed to make the necessary improvements and improve scores.


Resources

List of Habitat Friendly Solar Projects (pdf) (under development)

Project Planning Assessment Form (pdf)

Established Project Assessment Form (pdf)

Fact Sheet on Protecting Conservation Plantings from Pesticides (pdf)

Sample Habitat Friendly Solar Planting Plan Specifications (pdf)