May 30, 2018
SPRINGFIELD, IL – The Illinois General Assembly passed a pollinator friendly solar energy bill late Monday that gives an extra boost to the vigorous solar energy development already underway in the state and offers benefits to multiple stakeholders. Senate Bill 3214 was sponsored by Senator Jason Barickman (R – Bloomington) and Representative Tom Bennett (R – Gibson City).
The legislation will encourage solar developers to create habitats for bees, monarchs and other pollinators within their solar sites. These projects will create job opportunities for seed growers and landscape companies. Additionally, these plants will help reduce soil erosion and minimize fertilizer runoff into nearby waterways.
This bill is an initiative of the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) with support from conservation interests and solar energy businesses. The bill follows similar legislation passed in Minnesota and Maryland with coordination from the Center for Pollinators and Energy, a national catalyst and clearinghouse for state-based initiatives and best practices, located at Minnesota-based Fresh Energy.
“ELPC is working to set the stage for robust growth of solar energy in Illinois,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “SB 3214 is a win-win that promotes solar energy development and encourages smart conservation practices that make sense for farmers and our environment.”
“This legislation will help the environment by creating more habitats for bees and butterflies,” said Rep. Bennett. ”It is good for agriculture and growers and should increase the number of pollinating insects and birds in Illinois.”
Sen. Barickman said, “SB 3214 will encourage solar site owners to convert otherwise wasted space into natural habitats. In addition to increasing habitat acres, this legislation is good for farmers and other growers and for local economic growth.”
The legislation creates a scorecard to set minimum standards that solar developers must fulfill if they want to call their project “pollinator-friendly.” The scorecard will be designed jointly by University of Illinois Extension at Urbana-Champaign and Illinois’ Department of Natural Resources.
“The scorecard will provide a fair, flexible and science-based method for solar developers who choose to promote their projects as beneficial to pollinators,” said Adam Dolezal, PhD., an Assistant Professor of Entomology at University of Illinois who will be involved in the scorecard’s design.
The bill also ensures that solar arrays will be managed to prevent propagation of noxious and invasive weed species.
Agricultural sector stakeholders were encouraged by the legislation.
“Most farmers understand the preservation and health of pollinators, and their habitat, is important to agriculture,” said James Young, a farmer and property manager in Douglas County who signed an agreement with U.S. Solar to have a pollinator friendly solar array on his land. “The concept of co-locating pollinator habitat, and a solar facility on the same parcel, is a win-win and an excellent use of the available space.”
“It is greatly encouraging to hear about private sector investments from the solar industry that can help bees,” said Tim May, President of the American Beekeeping Federation and CEO of Sunny Hill Apiaries, a leading Chicagoland honey producer and packer. “Populations of honey bees and all pollinators are in crisis and urgently need flowering landscapes that provide food and nutrition. Pollinator-friendly plants under and around ground-mounted solar can play an important role in helping protect Illinois pollinators for the next generation of farmers.”
Read the bill here. SB 3214 passed the Illinois House 114-0 and now goes to Governor Bruce Rauner for final approval.