LaGRANGE, Ga. (WRBL) — One local solar grid has become a pollinator haven. Georgia Power first started its pollinator project four years ago in an effort to help dwindling numbers of species like bees and butterflies. Now, 25 species of plants known to attract pollinators, like milkweed and beebalm, grow between the rows of Georgia Power’s LaGrange solar site.
Jim Ozier, Georgia Power’s environmental specialist of the last eight years, explained building solar panel sites can impact the open meadows and habitats which pollinators need.
“Of course, any kind of conversion takes away habitat,” said Ozier, who wants to see if the company’s project could work on a larger scale. “We’re looking at the possibility of mitigating some of that by providing habitat for pollinators within the solar arrays.”
The project’s organizer said he didn’t have exact statistics determining the success of the project on hand. However, results seem promising. He mentioned Georgia Power has seen greater presence of pollinator and general insect activity in the 1.5-acre area containing its project.
Although blueberry and peach crops this year were mainly impacted by cold snaps, Ozier noted the larger, long-term issue is lack of pollinators. He explained Georgia’s blueberries are mainly pollinated by native bee species.
According to the Georgia Association of Conservation Districts, local pollinator species include “bees, wasps, birds (especially hummingbirds), butterflies, moths, flies, mosquitoes, beetles, ants, slugs and snails.”
Ozier stated the project, which is funded by Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), faced some challenges at its outset.
“It’s a very small, atypical site and the soil was very poor to begin with. We had to ramp up the soil a little bit just to get things to grow,” said Ozier, clarifying the plot is about three acres in total, with about half dedicated to the pollinator project.
Though phase one of the project mainly focused on establishing a pollinator garden between the panels, Ozier explained phase two would have a different goal. If Georgia Power can secure funding to extend the project, Ozier said the priority is maintenance.
“How much maintenance does it take to keep it in the kind of condition we want? There’s always going to be competition from invasive, exotic weeds that are going to be blowing in and trying to take over,” said Ozier. He mentioned Georgia Power is also curious to see if the garden can maintain itself or if it be out competed by other plants in the area.
Right now, the project organizer explained they often have to cut back honeysuckle which pushes in from the road next to the site. Sometimes the job also comes with overcoming fears of bees, which Ozier noted are not usually aggressive unless their hive has been attacked.
In general, he views the project positively. Ozier said, “We feel like it’s making a good use of space that would otherwise be limited and it’s compatible with the primary and intended use which is generating solar power.”