Expanding Pollinator Habitat

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Steve Freese President and CEO

My column in the July 2016 edition of Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News described how the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association and the Sand County Foundation were jointly exploring efforts to restore monarch butterfly habitat. This month I would like to give you an update on the progress.

While Sand County Foundation continues working to find partners with FFA Chapters across Wisconsin to establish pollinator gardens, Dairyland Power Cooperative is ready to lead the way on monarch habitat restoration. In 2016 Dairyland announced it would acquire the energy output from 15 utilityscale solar generation facilities under power purchase agreements with developers SoCore Energy and groSolar. The facilities will be sited in the service areas of 13 Wisconsin electric cooperatives and one in Iowa, all on the Dairyland system.

These facilities will increase total solar generation on the Dairyland system to 20 megawatts. Once construction is finished and all the facilities are brought on line—that’s expected to happen later this year—utility-scale solar generation capacity in Wisconsin will be nearly doubled. At peak production, when the sun is shining at all of the sites, the combined output of these new solar facilities will be sufficient to power more than 3,000 homes.

And even on cloudy days, each solar site will double as a pollinator garden providing habitat for butterflies, bees, and other valuable pollinators. My original hope was that

Wisconsin co-ops might collectively provide a total of about 25 acres of habitat using some of the land around service centers or community solar gardens. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see creation of 170 acres of habitat in 2016–17, but that will be one result of the new solar projects. Altogether, they will comprise one of the largest if not the largest habitat restoration project for monarchs and other pollinators in Wisconsin this year.
The Wisconsin solar projects will have rated generation capacities ranging from half a megawatt to 2.5 megawatts. Along with their accompanying pollinator gardens they will be located in or near Arcadia, Centuria, Conrath, Hillsboro, Liberty Pole, Medford, Menomonie, Mt. Hope, Necedah, New Auburn, Phillips, Roberts, the Town of Hallie, and Viola.

Like any construction project, these utility-scale solar facilities will start out as bare ground and mud. It will take a little time before they begin to look appealing and we start seeing the attractive blooms and butterflies, but it’s great to know help is on the way for monarch butterflies and other pollinators thanks to Wisconsin electric cooperatives.

If you have any questions or would simply like to have more information about our habitat restoration efforts, please contact me directly at WECA, Steve Freese, 222 West Washington Avenue, Ste. 680, Madison, WI 53703, or by telephone at 608-467-4634, or steve@weca.coop.

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