UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A unique undertaking in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences will shine a light on how solar farms can contribute to healthy ecosystems and boost pollinator populations.
“We have been given a remarkable opportunity to show how renewable energy production can be a platform for biodiversity, especially for valued pollinator species,” Harland Patch, assistant research professor of entomology, said of the project, which will complement the University’s new solar power initiative. “What we are proposing is new to the U.S., and we believe it will be a model for others to emulate.”
He explained that Penn State, in partnership with Lightsource BP, a leader in solar energy, in early September broke ground on a 70-megawatt, utility-scale solar project in Franklin County that will provide 25% of Penn State’s purchased electricity over the next 25 years.
More than 150,000 solar panels will be installed across three locations on about 500 acres leased from local landowners. The solar power project will save the University millions in energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, advance the Pennsylvania solar market, strengthen rural communities and provide farmers with an additional source of income.
“The facility is being constructed in a regenerative fashion, meaning that steps are being taken not only to minimize damage to the land but also to improve soil health and create wildlife habitat,” Patch said.
Yet, there are more benefits that can be harvested at the site — especially for native bee species — and that is what Patch and colleagues Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology, and Sjoerd Duiker, professor of soil management and applied soil physics, intend to explore.