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Bee Friendly Solar Farms Part 2: US Solar Apiary Model Takes Off

In our last post, we looked at the practice of planting pollinator friendly plants, aka creating  “bee meadows,” on solar farm sites in the UK. Now, commercial beekeepers are rolling out solar apiaries across the USA.

In June 2017, National Geographic published the amusing headline ‘The Tesla of Honey‘. They were referring to the first commercial scale ‘solar apiary’ in the USA.

The new Solarwise garden in Ramsey, Minnesota had “quietly” been established in April that year. Beneath and around a vast solar array, the ground had been planted with “low-growing, pollinator-friendly plants” to create a bee meadow. 15 hives had been installed by Bolton Bees, who had bee connected with the project by Minnesota bee meadow pioneers Fresh Energy.

Such a coupling – of increased bee habitat and potential business opportunities for local beekeepers – is significant. When the Bolton’s opened their first solar apiary, US beekeepers had lost more than 40 percent of their colonies in the year prior. The Bolton’s now produce site specific Solar Honey in custom jars. These branded products not only provides a promotional incentive to their partners; they also promote the solar apiary model and cause.

Two other solar apiaries soon followed in the state. And at the time of the National Geographic article, the Boltons were already in talks to install apiaries at more solar projects in Minnesota, plus sites in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

Serendipity and Solar

Skip ahead to June 2018. In Jackson County, Oregon, utility-scale solar developer Pine Gate Renewables had just completed their 9.9-MW Eagle Point solar farm. Installed across 41 acres of land, along its perimeter were 48 beehives making honey for a local beekeeper. This site was one of the first projects rolled out under their Solar Culture initiative.

Sparked by the CEO’s new found interest in permaculture, the company states that Solar Culture is about “doing better than the status quo” when it comes to environmental practices. Part of this meant implementing dual land use principals on their sites.

It was somewhat “serendipitous” how the pieces of this project, the largest solar apiary yet, fell into place. According to Solar Power World, Pine Gate’s Environmental Manager, Julianne Wooten was connected with Fresh Energy’s director Rob Davis by an environmental consultancy. It so happened that Davis was looking for a solar site to connect with a beekeeper for National Pollinator Week.

Davis chose John Jacob of Old Sol Apiaries, also president of the Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association. By chance, Jacob had just acquired about 400 honeybee hives from a retiring beekeeper and was looking for a place to move some of them. And it happened that Eagle Point was located about 30 minutes from his house. Serendipitous indeed!

Are there Solar Apiaries in Australia?

There are no commercial apiaries on solar farms in Australia that we know of at the time of writing. However, Grazing sheep or floating solar farms on dams are dual land use practices for solar already practiced here.

But many commercial beekeepers are reaping the benefits of powering their operations with their own solar installations. In NSW, The Honey Factory at Byron Eco Farm is run entirely on solar energy. While in WA, Davies Apiary in Baldivis had a 20kW system installed by Infinite Energy in 2017. It’s projected to reduce their CO2 emissions by 25 tonnes and energy costs by $7000 a year.

Australia has no shortage of sunlight and continues to see the costs solar technology fall year after year. Adding this to the environmental benefits, these kinds of investments make a lot of sense for the Australian apiculture industry.

solar farm solar apiary beekeeping bee meadows Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

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