Ohio’s solar energy industry spawns new research
BOWLING GREEN — As Ohio’s commitment to solar energy continues to grow, a new era of research is starting to emerge for this state — one that seeks better use of land and airspace in and around massive solar panel arrays.
Following the lead of similar projects in Minnesota, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, and other conservation groups on developing habitat for pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies, as well as just generally beautifying sites or making them more attractive to other forms of wildlife, such as birds.
The goal is to find the right combination of small plants — native wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses — that grow no more than 2 feet tall so as not to obstruct solar panels. The plantings are to serve at least one more function, such as helping out to some degree in keeping algae-growing phosphorus and other farm fertilizers from entering local ditches and streams.
There also are hopes for an educational component that goes beyond electricity produced by solar panels themselves.
On city-owned agricultural land that Bowling Green has leased to NextEra Energy Resources and American Municipal Power Inc. for solar-energy production, biologists plan to use a $49,000 research grant to see which plants are most compatible inside a solar field, as well as along its perimeter.
If successful, the Wood County Parks District will bring school groups, farmers, and others to the site to show them examples of how clean energy can be produced in the thick of wildlife habitat — an environmental two-for-one.
“It should be pretty,” said Daryl Stockburger, assistant Bowling Green utilities director.
Donald Scherer, a retired Bowling Green State University professor who founded BGSU’s applied philosophy program and specialized in environmental ethics, loves the idea of enhancing youth education.
“It’s very important as a model, because we’re going to have more solar across Ohio,” he said.
Signs point to a surge in solar energy across Ohio now that the state’s highly controversial, two-year hiatus on renewable energy mandates has expired.
The law, which requires at least 12.5 percent of Ohio’s energy to come from renewable energy by 2027, has been fought vigorously by utility giant FirstEnergy Corp. and conservatives in the Ohio General Assembly. Gov. John Kasich irritated them at the end of 2016 when he announced he would not extend the two-year freeze he’d signed in 2014 by another two years.