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A Great Leap Forward for Solar Habitats

We’re celebrating a great leap forward for the “Solar Habitat Act,” H.4875.  This Audubon-inspired bill, recently approved by a key state legislative committee, promises a brighter future for birds, bees, farmers, and everyone else in South Carolina.   

The Birds and the Bees

The proposed Solar Habitat Act lets solar energy companies in South Carolina market their facilities as “pollinator and bird friendly” if they meet certain standards.  Companies that want to use this label must landscape with native plants, which offer a rich smorgasbord of insects, seeds, and berries for local birds — including birds whose populations are declining. 

We’re drafting the standards so that solar habitats will be especially helpful to grassland birds, which have been hard hit by pesticides and habitat loss.  If the bill becomes law, birds that can count on a boost in South Carolina include the Eastern Meadowlark, Northern Bobwhite, Loggerhead Shrike, and Grasshopper Sparrow, all of which have declined at least 75 percent nationwide since the 1960s.

Solar habitats will also give a boost to our state’s wild pollinators, including bees, bats, and butterflies.  Providing habitat and forage for pollinators is more important than ever, as the global collapse of bee hives has been hurting farmers across our state.

Triple Play

If the Solar Habitat Act becomes law in South Carolina, the birds and the bees aren’t the only ones that will benefit:

  • Nearby farmers will see crop yields jump.  Research shows that crop yields and profits increase when pollinator-friendly native plants are added nearby.
  • Solar developers will see costs decline.  Solar panels are typically surrounded by gravel, which is expensive to install, or turf grass, which is expensive to cultivate.  Native plants grow from inexpensive seeds.  Plus, there’s no need for herbicides, pesticides, mowing, or long-term watering.
  • Downstream communities could see cleaner water and less flooding.  Native plants have deep root systems that restore healthy soils (see illustration below).  Healthy soils readily absorb stormwater, and also filter toxins before they reach our waterways.  So when native plants dominate a large landscape, the result is cleaner water and fewer floods.

Significant Impact

Happily, this bill promises to have a significant impact.  Though it isn’t yet law, one solar developer is already eager to plant 1,000 acres of native plants.  That’s about 600,000 times larger than a six-by-twelve plot in your backyard or mine.  Imagine that impact multiplied across the state as more solar companies get on board.

The next step for the Solar Habitat Act is a vote in the South Carolina House of Representatives, then in the state Senate.  We have high hopes for a win, especially since the bill is supported by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies and conservation groups.  Similar bills have passed unanimously in Minnesota and Maryland.

As the bill works its way through the General Assembly, we’ll keep you up to date.  In the meantime, it’s a joy to advocate for legislation that’s such a clear win-win for both humans and wildlife!