Pollinator-friendly solar energy becomes the norm in Minnesota

Credit to Elizabeth Dunbar at MPR News for the article, and to Evan Frost for the photograph of the solar panels. Original article link:  https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/06/20/pollinatorfriendly-solar-energy-becomes-the-norm-in-minnesota

The environmental benefits of Connexus Energy’s solar-plus-storage project are obvious enough, but this time of year, you’ll notice something more: prairie grasses and flowers planted under and around the sea of solar panels.

Pollinator-friendly plantings at large solar energy sites have become common in Minnesota in recent years. Not only do they provide habitat for the bee and butterfly populations people have been concerned about, but they also promote soil health and probably even boost the solar panels’ electricity output on warm days.

The National Renewable Energy Lab is using the Ramsey Renewable Station and a couple dozen other sites around the country to test that.

“Their hypothesis is that thicker vegetation under and around solar panels creates a cooler microclimate, which actually generates more electricity from the panels,” said Rob Davis, who directs the Center for Pollinators in Energy at the Minnesota advocacy group Fresh Energy.

The group has promoted pollinator plantings at solar sites for several years. It’s now become mainstream, with the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, saying it will require solar developers to include plans for plantings at proposed sites. The practice is common in the U.K., and Connexus was the first to try it in Minnesota with a small solar array at its headquarters in 2014, Davis said.

The project would have been covered with gravel, but Connexus staff intervened. In the years since the pollinator habitat was planted there, pictures of the site has been featured in publications such as National Geographic and Martha Stewart Living, Davis said.

Recently, researchers have found bee and butterfly populations are declining — a trend linked to disease, parasites, decreased biodiversity, agricultural practices such as row-cropping and pesticide use, and climate change.

In some parts of the world, the problem is so serious that work crews pollinate crops by hand.

“There’s so many pollinator-dependent crops that we all love and enjoy — blueberries and apples — but every single apple flower needs to be visited two to three times by a bee,” Davis said.

During a Connexus Energy open house on Wednesday, adults and kids planted milkweed along the fence line at the new solar-plus-storage facility in Ramsey.

“It’s neat to hear that the land is good for more than just the solar panels,” said Michelle Austin-Dehn, of Ramsey, who brought her two sons to the event in the family’s electric car. Last year, she said, the kids grew milkweed and collected caterpillars. They also compost and try to use environmentally friendly products.

“It’s important,” she said. “It’s one big planet and we’re all connected.”

Patricia Rosales was there with some of her English language students from Otsego Elementary, who learned about the importance of pollinators in school.

“It’s their future, and they know if something happens to bees, what would happen, if we didn’t have fruits and vegetables and how the grocery store would look without all the things that are pollinated by bees,” Rosales said.

Under a tent next to the Ramsey Renewable Station, Connexus CEO Greg Ridderbusch described the project to a few dozen people — many of them members of the electric cooperative.

“We all know we need to get to higher and higher levels of carbon-free electricity on the grid, he said, “so our strategy is, if we can find projects that will both save us money and green the electricity that we’re adding to the grid, those are good projects.”

Ridderbusch added on sunny days, power from the panels costs less than power from the electricity grid. In addition, the power saved in the batteries helps the co-op rely less on the grid at times when wholesale electricity is most expensive — at peak times, like when everybody gets home from work and school and turns on the air conditioning.

“Over the next 25 years, the plantings that will be here will improve the soil, and it will be a habitat for pollinators — we actually have a farm next door,” Ridderbusch said.

That farm grows pumpkins and melons. Those plants, plus the pollinator habitat planted alongside the panels make it a good spot to make honey. Connexus is working with Minneapolis-based Bare Honey, which has placed bee hives on the site.

DNR commissioner: Connection to outdoors critical to health, conservation

Credit to Kirsti Marohn at MPR News: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/06/18/dnr-commissioner-connection-to-outdoors-critical-to-health-conservation

Bucks such as this wide-racked whitetail will be the target of deer hunters across the Minnesota on Saturday, Nov. 4, when the state’s firearms deer season opens. (Photo/ Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)

The commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources told a group of lake advocates on Tuesday that it’s her personal mission to connect more people with the outdoors.

Sarah Strommen spoke at the “Water Connects Us All” conference in Walker, Minn., organized by the nonprofit Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates. The two-day conference focused on challenges facing the state’s natural resources, including climate change, aquatic invasive species and threats to water quality, as well as possible solutions.

Strommen highlighted Minnesota’s changing demographics, noting that the state’s population is getting older, more urban and diverse. But she said youth and families aren’t using state parks and other recreation facilities as much because of a lack of time or experience, concerns about safety or language barriers.

Strommen said people’s connection to nature is critical for the long-term protection of the state’s natural resources, its economy and residents’ well-being.

“The reality is that people who work to protect these resources, the main factor that motivates people is that personal connection or personal experience,” she said.

Strommen also said there’s a wealth of research showing the mental and physical health benefits of spending time in nature. Even just a few minutes a day spent in an urban park can lower stress and anxiety levels, she said.

Referring to the increased use of technology among kids and teens, Strommen said she was glad her son was fishing at their nearby family cabin while she was at the conference.

“I feel really fortunate that my kid is outside right now. He’s not on the screen,” she said. “But that is not the norm. I’m very well aware that I am raising a child who does not match the activities of his peers.”

But Strommen said there is also growing concern about obesity and interest in a healthy, active lifestyle. People’s motivation for using parks and trails is changing — with exercise now a leading reason, Strommen said. She said the DNR is trying to reach those people to promote activities like stand-up paddle boarding, fat-tire bike events and trail runs.

Strommen said the DNR also is updating older state parks and facilities while keeping hard-to-reach groups in mind, by adding things like Wi-Fi and better access for people with disabilities.

“I know that’s like the worst thing for some people to hear is that you can access Wi-Fi in our campgrounds,” she said. “But the reality is there are a lot of people that cannot leave their job if they can’t connect. And if they don’t feel like they can leave their job, they just won’t go camping, and they won’t take their family.”

How to Plan a Minnesota Family Reunion Vacation

There’s nothing like getting the family together again. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, and the whole rest of the extended family. Of course, getting everything organized can be a hassle, especially if you don’t know where the host the reunion at. So today let’s see how to set up a family reunion up here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, following these five steps:

Formulating the Family Reunion

Hosting a large gathering like a family reunion takes time, and you’ll want to be prepared. It’s good to make sure you’re not the only one planning this out, so be sure to communicate with the rest of your family in planning out a reunion. This means speaking to them in-person, over the phone, online, mail, etc, in order to notify them that you want to plan out a family reunion, and if they would be interested in attending. Even if some family members may not attend, it’s still important to send out an invite to them anyway so they don’t feel left out.

Allocating Duties

It’s important to delegate certain tasks to others when planning out a family reunion, otherwise it’s very easy to get overwhelmed as one person running the whole show. This means making sure you get the whole family to pitch in, with some of them being responsible for managing entertainment, finances, food, reservations, etc. Speaking of reservations, when booking a location to host a family reunion at, such as a resort, it’s important to have reservations up to a year in advance. In the northern Minnesota area, there’s plenty of resorts to book a family reunion at, such as White Birch Resort. Sometimes you can even get solid off-season deals at resorts!

Managing Time

When booking your family reunion, you’ll want to decide how long you want the reunion to last, be it a couple days or a couple weeks. Regardless, knowing what time frame you want to work under will help a lot in planning out the rest of the events you want to have at the reunion. For example, it’s recommended to have a longer stay at a resort you’re hosting a reunion at if your family is out-of-state, or even out-of-country. That way they can enjoy more experiences offered and get more value out of the time and money spent at the reunion.

Inclusive Activities

As said before, it’s crucial to try and send invitations to everyone you want to have attend so they don’t feel left out. But besides that, it’s also important that all the events and activities at the reunion are ones that a vast majority of your family will enjoy. If you have family that enjoy outside activities like hiking, fishing, swimming, and more, then booking a resort with tons of nature around it is a fantastic idea. Of course, it’s always good to mix up activities too, such as having movie nights, going bowling, visiting historical landmarks, etc. Knowing the location you’re going to be at during your family reunion will help a lot in planning out events, such as finding catering services and local businesses you want to visit. So be sure to factor in your family’s demographics to make sure it matches with the culture of the geographics your reunion will be at.

Linking-Up

Now once you actually get your family reunion situated after several months of coordinating, you’re going to want to meet and greet with everyone as they arrive. If your budget is big enough, you can even do things like give out welcome bags or t-shirts. It’s also best to show everyone a schedule of events to keep things organized for all the activities planned at your family reunion. Having a great start to your family reunion will help provide a solid foundation for setting the right atmosphere. Then with a nice base to start the family reunion on, all it takes it maintaining momentum and you’ll be able to create wonderful memories with your family at your next reunion.