solar field

Plants for pollinators take root in solar sanctuary

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News A “solar sanctuary” for butterflies, bees and birds was created Tuesday just north of Bowling Green. More than 300 shrubs were planted on the north side of the city’s 165-acre solar field near the corner of Newton and Carter roads. The plants will serve four purposes – attract pollinators, provide food for birds, offer habitat for rabbits and deer, and work on water quality. The team met Tuesday morning to put the plants in place. Helping with the project was the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, BGSU students, the City of Bowling Green, and volunteers. The deep-rooted native plants included serviceberry bushes, hazelnut, dogwood, hawthorn, winterberry, plum, buttonbush and elderberry bushes. “These are all native plants – host plants with nectar,” to attract native pollinators like Monarch butterflies and bees, said Donnie Knight, of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The north side of the solar field was completed Tuesday, and more plantings are planned for the south side, Knight said. That will be a total of about 14 acres of “solar sanctuary” for bees, butterflies, birds and bunnies. Though many solar fields also have wildflowers planted alongside the solar panels, Knight said that isn’t happening at this field, yet. “We weren’t able to strike an agreement with the power company,” Knight said of Next Era Energy. “We have a lot of examples of that in Ohio. But we couldn’t make it happen here yet.” Each plant will have a protective wrap around its base to keep rabbits and deer from nibbling away too much. “The deer will be able to browse the tops,” but not destroy the shrubs, Knight said. As part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the project is also designed to help improve water quality, as the planting area filters water heading to the ditch, destined for Lake Erie. Helping with the planting from the city of Bowling Green were Arborist Grant Jones, Natural Resources Specialist Cinda Stutzman and Sustainability Coordinator Amanda Gamby. When workers arrived Tuesday morning, the 300-plus holes had already been dug along the northern edge of the solar field. “It’s just a matter of plant, cover and go,” Stutzman said. Stutzman said the plants should provide habitat for pollinators. “We know a lot of the pollinators have been in decline,” she said. “Especially the native ones are hurting.” Last year, Marci Lininger, of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, explained the value of the program to city officials. “You are producing good clean energy, and you’re helping wildlife at the same time,” Lininger said. “Pollinators are in decline right now,” she said. Adult Monarch butterflies have seen a 50 percent drop in the last 10 years due to disappearing milkweed plants  – which are the only plants used by Monarchs for laying eggs. Some wildflower habitats target specific species. The one at Bowling Green’s solar site will be aimed at attracting several species of bees, birds and butterflies. The plan calls for three seasons of blooming plants. Ohio is a priority location for Monarchs on their annual trek to Mexico. “We have a huge responsibility here in Ohio,” Lininger said. This region also has many crops that are suffering from inadequate pollination, she said. Crops relying on pollination include tomatoes,…


Bowling Green takes ‘green’ part of name seriously

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Amanda Gamby’s new job may fall short of being glamorous. It’s had her tagging garbage bins, going through recycling, and riding bike for the first time in eight years. But as Bowling Green’s first ever sustainability coordinator, Gamby doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. She is a true believer in the city’s environmental sustainability – whether that involves energy production, recycling, bicycling or clean water. Gamby, who spoke Thursday to the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club, said the city has already made some serious strides toward sustainability. “We’re really already doing some pretty cool things,” Gamby said. “We’re just not telling about it very well.” So that is part of her job. Gamby, who previously served as the Wood County environmental educator, has expertise in public outreach and education for very young children to senior citizens, and everyone in between. And she wants them all to know that 42 percent of Bowling Green’s electricity comes from renewable sources. “That’s a pretty big chunk of the pie,” Gamby said. The city was the first in Ohio to use a wind farm to generate municipal electricity, starting in 2003. “The joke is that it’s a wind garden because it’s only four,” she said. But even though it’s just four turbines, some doubted the city’s wisdom and investment in the $8.8 million project. “Many people thought Daryl Stockburger was crazy,” Gamby said, of the city’s utilities director at the time who pushed for the wind turbines. But the turbines have been generating power ever since. The turbines are as tall as a 30-story building and generate up to 7.2 megawatts of power — enough to supply electricity for approximately 2,500 residential customers. Debt on the wind turbine project was paid in full in 2015, which was several years earlier than planned, Gamby said. And now, the city is home to the largest solar field in Ohio. The 165-acre solar field consists of more than 85,000 panels and is capable of producing 20-megawatts of alternating current electricity.  In an average year, it is expected to produce an equivalent amount of energy needed to power approximately 3,000 homes.  It will also avoid approximately 25,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year since the energy is generated from a non-fossil fuel resource. The city is also talking about building a community solar field on East Gypsy Lane Road, where city residents and businesses can buy into solar power. “We’re really leaders. Our small community is setting the stage for others,” Gamby said. Bowling Green city officials have been adamant that the wind farm and solar field be open to tours so that others can learn from the alternative energy sites. Tours are allowed under and inside the turbines, and through the rows of solar panels. “That’s pretty unheard of in the industry,” Gamby said. The city is working to improve some of its other environmentally friendly programs, like encouraging more “rain gardens” and educating people to not put pollutants into storm sewers since stormwater is not treated by the water pollution control plant. Bowling Green continues to try to educate residents about its curbside recycling program, in order to keep contamination out of the recycling bins. But the city – with its frequently changing population at BGSU –…


Park district to maintain solar sanctuary for birds, bees and butterflies

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The Wood County Park District has agreed to play a role in a local sanctuary for butterflies, bees and birds. The park board voted unanimously Tuesday to maintain the 13.4-acre “solar sanctuary” planned around the solar field near the corner of Newton and Carter roads, northeast of Bowling Green. The project fits nicely into the mission of the park district, according to Neil Munger, executive director of the district. In exchange for maintaining the site, the park district can use the wildflower sanctuary as an educational tool. “It’s been an ongoing issue around the country – the loss of pollinator habitat,” Munger said. The city of Bowling Green is working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to develop a wildlife and pollinator habitat around the new 165-acre solar field. One goal of the wildlife habitat area is to bring back pollinators to the region. Adult Monarch butterflies have seen a 50 percent drop in the last 10 years due to disappearing milkweed plants  – which are the only plants used by Monarchs for laying eggs. Some wildflower habitats target specific species. The one at Bowling Green’s solar site will be aimed at attracting several species of bees, birds and butterflies. The plan calls for three seasons of blooming plants. The wild habitat area, which will be planted outside the fenced-in solar array, is intended to benefit various pollinators, crops, soil quality, water quality, foraging birds and Monarchs. Ohio is a priority location for Monarchs on their annual trek to Mexico. This region also has many crops that are suffering from inadequate pollination. Crops relying on pollination include tomatoes, blueberries, melons, soybeans, peppers, peaches, cucumbers, squash and apples. Honey bees account for more than $15 billion in agricultural production of fruits, vegetables and nuts. Water and soil quality are also helped by the wildflower habitats because the native plants have deeper root systems and add nitrogen to the soil. The plants also attract insects, which are a food staple for many birds, and provide bird nesting areas in tall grasses. The wildlife habitat will be a team project of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the City of Bowling Green, Next Era Energy, American Municipal Power, and Bowling Green State University. The final partner to sign on was the park district, which will maintain the site and use it as part of its educational programming. Maintenance basically means mowing the site once a year, Munger said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials hope to plant the site this year. In other business at the park district meeting, the board welcomed new members Bill Cameron from North Baltimore, Tom Myers from Perrysburg, and Sandy Wiechman from Bowling Green. The board re-elected Denny Parish as chairman and Bob Hawker as vice chairman. The board decided to continue meeting on the second Tuesday of each month, at 3 p.m. During the winter months, the meetings will be held at the park district headquarters on Mercer Road. During the warmer months, the meetings will move to various parks in the county. Also at the meeting, Munger updated the board on the American Electric Power easement request to run poles along the Slippery Elm Trail near North Baltimore. Prior to Tuesday’s park board meeting, Munger heard…


Area around solar field may be restored to natural habitat

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green officials hope to save on mowing expenses and provide wildlife habitat all in one plan. Instead of mowing the open grassy areas surrounding the solar field on Carter Road, city officials are suggesting that the acreage become a pollinator habitat. The Board of Public Utilities was presented with the proposal Monday evening by Brian O’Connell, director of public utilities for Bowling Green. While mowing the 12 acres around the solar field doesn’t require a lot of time, it is an expense the city could avoid, O’Connell said. Daryl Stockburger, assistant utilities director, began looking for ways to reduce maintenance and enhance the solar site. He talked with representatives of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service about a grant to help convert the grassy areas into a pollinator habitat as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the Maumee Area of Concern. The habitat restoration would increase native habitat – such as vegetation, migratory birds and bees – and improve water quality in the watershed, O’Connell said. An agreement would likely require a commitment by the city to allow the pollinator habitat to remain for possibly five to 10 years. That would not be a problem, O’Connell said, since the solar contract has a longer term and there are few options for the narrow strips of land outside the solar field. It has been suggested that the Wood County Park District could maintain the habitat restoration area over the life of the grant. The project could provide educational opportunities for the park district, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green City Schools, and the city. The planting of the 12 acres, which are on the north and south sides of the solar field, would begin in 2018. O’Connell explained that none of the plantings would grow tall enough to shade the solar panels. The board of public utilities supported the proposal. “Taking scrub land we have to cut, and planting flowers,” Matt Paquette said, sounded good to him. Megan Newlove called the idea a “creative solution.” According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, all non-native vegetation will be removed and replaced by native shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. The plants will provide foraging habitat for songbirds and pollinators like Monarch butterflies and bumblebees. The habitat is critical to brood rearing for migratory waterfowl, while reducing storm water runoff, standing water and erosion. The project will directly address the loss of wildlife habitat for multiple species of native Ohio wildlife. Also, wind and water erosion and the amount of sediments entering the watershed will be reduced, and deep-rooted plants will remove nutrients that impact fish and macroinvertebrate populations.