Powering Our Pollinators
Contributed by Alicia Kroll
Alicia has been passionate about protecting the environment since childhood, growing up exploring many state and local parks. She studied Zoology at the University of Minnesota-Mankato, and worked in the animal care field for 10 years. Alicia can now be found ensuring billing accuracy as a Member Account Analyst at ECE. She is excited to use her knowledge of wildlife conservation to create pollinator-friendly landscapes at ECE. She also volunteers at Wild Paws Midwest Animal Sanctuary, which focuses on rescuing native, carnivore species displaced from the wild.
May 16, 2019
A Ray of Hope
Renewable energy and the plight of pollinators are both pretty big deals right now. While not everyone agrees on how much energy should come from renewables like solar, they generally do agree on what to plant under solar arrays: pollinator habitat.
Prior to 2016, you typically would have found rock or turf grass under a solar array in Minnesota. That all changed when the Pollinator Friendly Solar Act was signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton in May of that year. This was truly a win-win for everyone. Here are just a few benefits of planting for pollinators beneath solar arrays:
- Provides high-quality habitat for birds, pollinators and other small wildlife.
- Reduces stormwater runoff and erosion.
- Restores important prairie ecosystems.
- Boosts crop yields in nearby fields.
- Reduces vegetation maintenance costs.
- Increases panel efficiency.
According to a new study released by MN Solar Pathways, solar projects generally require about 7 acres of land per megawatt of energy production. Minnesota has roughly 7,100 acres of solar projects installed. And while that only represents a small fraction of land in the state, it is still a huge step forward for pollinators.
The state’s current goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025 can only be good news for pollinators. We recently announced that Great River Energy will build and buy power from a solar array in Cambridge. As you can guess, pollinator habitat will be incorporated into the roughly 15-acre site.
Planting for pollinators beneath and around a solar array is just one example of a creative solution to an immense problem. It’s also inspiring to see how technology can positively impact the environment. Thanks for tuning in. Next time we will dive into Pollinator Week and how you can get involved.
April 1, 2019
Cooperation is key
We’ve highlighted just how important it is for many sectors to be involved in helping pollinators.
- Individuals can plant home gardens.
- Businesses can convert campus turf grass to pollinator-friendly habitat.
- Government agencies can protect and promote pollinator populations by changing policies.
What it all comes down to is cooperation. Being a cooperative, that’s something we understand. While we are just getting started with our efforts, another cooperative, Great River Energy (GRE), has been re-establishing native habitat for over a decade. For those of you unfamiliar with GRE, they are our power supplier.
Last fall, I met with Jenny Mattson, GRE Communications Specialist, at their Elk River site. Here, they have converted nearly nine acres of manicured lawn into pollinator-friendly habitat. During full bloom, the colors are stunning.
I asked Jenny how GRE got started planting native habitat.
“Our first native habitat was at our Maple Grove campus,” she said. “We chose to plant native habitat as a way to uniquely contribute to the pollinator restoration effort. Planting native habitat also reduced maintenance costs and looks beautiful. It helped us attain the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the campus.”
There is a rising trend, especially among utilities, of planting and managing for pollinators. I asked Jenny why that is so important.
“As a utility, we have unique opportunities to manage and own lands that can be of great use to pollinators,” she said. “Our power line rights-of-way can offer long, continuous plots of habitat. We can partner with land trusts, parks and other organizations to plant pollinator habitat, as we don’t often own the corridor where our power lines are located.”
Over the last several years, government agencies, environmental organizations, the public and the media have been actively taking measures to solve the problem of pollinator loss. GRE simply wants to do their part. We feel the same way.
Commitment to Community
To date, GRE has restored approximately 200 acres to native habitat and will continue to seek opportunities for new projects. “Pollinator-friendly habitat projects support our commitment to invest in Minnesota communities,” said Jenny.
This commitment to community is what sets cooperatives apart. What GRE and other co-ops around the state and nation are doing to help pollinators is truly inspiring. Pollinators may be small, but their plight has large-scale effects. Thank you to Jenny Mattson for taking the time to share GRE’s story. Join us next time when we explore pollinator-friendly solar.
February 18, 2019
Minnesota winters can be long…very long. Snow, ice, and frigid temperatures seem to take up more than their fair share of the year. The winter blues settle in quickly. It helps to have something to look forward to, and for me, that something is Spring!
Spring may seem far out of reach, but it’s the best time to start planning your garden—specifically, your pollinator garden. We are excited to break ground on our pollinator habitat in Superior, WI, and hope to inspire you to do the same.
When planning your garden, consider three things:|
- Space: Where can you plant? Perhaps a plot of land within your yard or community garden. Other places include planter boxes or along the perimeter of your house.
- Plant size: Big or small, every plant makes a difference.
- Cost: Native plants may be more expensive, but they provide the best benefit to pollinators and the ecosystem.
Think of the pollinator species you want to attract.
here are many guides available to help you choose the correct plants, whether you are interested in attracting bees, birds, or butterflies. While each garden will be different, there are tips that work for every garden type.
- Plant flowers that provide pollen and nectar throughout the entire growing season.
- Create habitat with nesting sites, shelter, and water sources.
- Eliminate the use of pesticides.
Not all flowers are created equally.
It is best to choose locally-sourced, native species. Native plants have adapted to the local climate; therefore, they provide the best source of nutrition to native animals. It is also important to plant a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the season. This will provide a continuous food source and increase the likelihood of pollinator survival.
In addition to planting plenty of flowers, you will want to include native grasses and semi-bare patches of soil to create habitat. Most native species of bees are solitary ground nesters. Avoid disturbance to any nest sites, including mulching and tilling. You can even build your own artificial bee nests—for details, check out the instructions from the Xerces Society at .
Do not use pesticides.
The prolific use of insecticides, specifically those similar to nicotine (look for “neonicotinoids” on the label), has been extremely detrimental to pollinator populations. Toxicity levels can remain months to years after application. Before planting, ensure there will be no drift from neighboring crop fields. Select a site that has been free from insecticide use for at least two years. And finally, use only targeted herbicide treatments for weed control during times when they are most effective and least harmful to pollinators.
Seed assistance is available.
There are non-profit organizations that will provide seed to you at either no cost or on a cost-share basis. They each have a different set of rules, but you could save hundreds (or even thousands) in the end. Here are just a few of the sites:
- - Check out their Seed a Legacy Habitat Program.
- - They offer free milkweed plugs to individuals and schools.
- - While they don’t offer free seed or plants, they do provide free apps and ecoregional planting guides.
Final thoughts: Think green!
Let’s kick the winter blues and help save our pollinators. It will take a lot of us, doing our small parts, to make a big impact.
Our next blog post will explore what Great River Energy, our power supplier, is doing to help pollinators too. Be sure to like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter so you don’t miss out!
January 31, 2019
What’s the buzz all about?
If you’ve checked your social media feed or watched the news lately, you may have heard about the declining population of the world’s pollinator species. But, have you ever wondered how the population of an insect or bird could affect you? Well, think about these statistics from the USDA:
- Pollinators are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food.
- They are directly responsible for pollinating 35% of the world’s food crops.
- They pollinate 75-90% of the world’s flowering plants.
Do you feel differently now? I know I did when I first heard those staggering numbers.
Birds, bees, bats, butterflies, flies, and small mammals make up the majority of what are considered ‘pollinator’ species. They use their bodies to pick up pollen from one plant and deliver it to another. This is the first step in pollination that produces seeds, fruits and the next generation of the plant.
Pollinator populations are changing. Let’s look at the monarch butterfly, an iconic pollinator species. Their numbers have declined by more than 80% in the last two decades. Habitat loss is the key driver behind their decline. Milkweed, which is the host plant for the monarch, is often seen as just a weed and eradicated from the landscape. Another contributing factor could be a lack of late-flowering nectar sources along their migration route.
What does all this have to do with an electric co-op?
Many researchers believe we need all-hands-on-deck to boost the pollinator population. With over 8,000 miles of vegetation to manage, ECE can help preserve and promote pollinator habitat in our rights-of-way. And, like you at home, we can plant pollinator gardens.
ECE is researching possible sites to establish pollinator gardens.
To create a diverse and well-maintained pollinator habitat, we have teamed up with MN Native Landscapes (MNL) out of Otsego, MN. MNL has years of experience restoring native vegetation to business and home landscapes. With their expertise, we plan to transform roughly two acres of turf grass and scrub brush into pollinator habitat at our Superior Operations Center. Because native plants have such deep roots, it can take up to three years for the garden to fully establish. We believe the time we put in now will provide more time for our pollinator populations to grow.
In our next blog, we will discuss the benefits of using targeted herbicides in our rights-of-way to promote native vegetation for our wildlife.
January 4, 2019
Welcome to the first edition of Powering Our Pollinators.
Imagine a peaceful, breezy afternoon in your yard or garden. As you enjoy the warm breeze, you see a monarch butterfly softly floating by. Now, listen closely. Do you hear the buzz of a distant bee? Perhaps you swat at a fly that’s making circles around your head. These are our pollinators, and they need help.
Who am I and how did our pollinator project get started?
The great outdoors is where I most wanted to be as a child. Camping, hiking and fishing were three of my favorite activities. That love of nature followed me into adulthood, and I graduated from college with a degree in zoology. I spent many years working at an animal rescue facility, where I learned of the delicate balance between the natural world and the role humans play. While I no longer work directly with animals, East Central Energy (ECE) has given me an opportunity to use my knowledge and passion in a new way.
With the plight of the pollinator now making front page news, many organizations are stepping up to help. I learned of other electric cooperatives building pollinator gardens and large monarch waystations and posed this question to our CEO: Can ECE do more? He immediately said yes. With the help of several other team members, we are researching sites that could be converted from turf grass to pollinator-friendly habitat.
What can you expect?
The Powering Our Pollinators blog will bring you updates on all our pollinator projects and share why protecting pollinators is important. It will also be a forum to discuss how our Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) system promotes pollinator habitat in our rights-of-way. I am excited to get started on this project and hope to share some ways you, as a member, can get involved in helping pollinators too. Catch the next installment, where we will discuss the importance of pollinators and what we hope to accomplish.