InSPIRE/low impact/habitat/partnerships and outreach
Low-Impact Development Strategies
Native Vegetation and Pollinator Habitat
Partnerships and Outreach
The success of low-impact solar development can be facilitated through strategic partnerships and effective outreach and communication plans. Partnerships can help encourage greater acceptance of a project from local stakeholders and can also help incorporate local expertise. Partners can also improve communication and outreach activities by providing an additional, and potentially more well known locally, outlet for stakeholders.
Solar project developers should consider a wide variety of partnerships for each solar project. Specific partners to target could include: state agencies, universities, environmental and conservation organizations, local K-12 schools, and agricultural organizations. In developing partnerships, there should be a clear purpose and mutual benefits associated with each partnership. When working with state agencies, partnerships could focus on sharing data on the success rate of low-impact solar development techniques and approaches. The project site could become a testbed for state agencies to evaluate potential regulations or incentives. University partnerships could be forged around conducting research on-site as well as for other educational purposes. Environmental and conservation partnerships could be formed around the demonstration of how solar projects can provide multiple ecosystem service benefits. K-12 school partnerships could focus on field trips and educational activities. Partnerships with agricultural organizations could focus on how solar projects can benefit agriculture through the use of pollinator-friendly vegetation as well as how the ground cover activities could serve to benefit soil quality.
Healthy relationships with surrounding landowners and neighbors can be an important mechanism for ensuring timely project development and broad community support. Relationships with neighbors can have a higher likelihood of success if there is transparent and effective communication between the landowner and the developer. Personalized letters, in-person visits, and/or phone calls could help initiate conversations with neighbors. Clearly communicating project activities, including how the project could potentially provide benefits to surrounding farms, soil quality, education, research, and the local economy is important.
As the field of low-impact solar development is relatively new, it is likely that each solar project could incorporate some form of research activity to increase the state of knowledge and provide unique local insights. Research outcomes have the potential to not only benefit the individual site on which it occurs, but also to have broader impacts on knowledge in that area, at the state-level, and in other parts of the country (or world) with similar conditions. Research activities could be performed by trained staff from local universities, national laboratories, engineering/consulting companies, or by the solar developer. In some cases undertaking research (such as identifying pollinator-friendly species that are blooming) could be a team-building activity for staff. Some specific research opportunities for low-impact solar development include:
- Performance of different seed mixes underneath the solar array
- Effectiveness of alternative planting or vegetation management approaches, such as: utilizing a cover crop, planting in the fall vs. in the spring, site preparation variations, mowing and maintenance timing variations, irrigation variations, etc.
- Microclimate conditions underneath solar arrays with native vegetation or pollinator-friendly habitat
- Impacts of microclimate conditions on solar array output
- Soil moisture and quality tests
- Carbon sequestration of native vegetation and pollinator-friendly habitat
- Pollinator and beneficial insect populations
- Apiary and beekeeping opportunities
- Economic benefits and tradeoffs of low-impact solar
- Ecosystem services provided by low-impact solar
Developing effective communication and outreach materials can help raise awareness regarding the benefits of low-impact solar development. Materials and approaches can take a variety of forms, including:
- Signs along the fence or perimeter of the project highlighting low-impact features of the project
- Informational brochures on various low-impact solar development features
- Public events at or near the project site for educational purposes
- Quarterly newsletters highlighting the success of the project and its low-impact features
- Targeted communications to local landowners or the community on project activities
- Press releases to local news outlets