Pollinator Habitat Thriving at O'Brien Solar Fields

First monarch caterpillars were spotted at the site this year.

A row of yellow flowers in between rows of solar panels at O'Brien Solar Fields.
Did you know solar generation sites offer a unique opportunity for co-locating and supporting native prairie habitat? Unlike other power generation sites, solar sites have panels that are raised off the ground. This offers space for planting that would otherwise be turfgrass. And, since the panels rotate throughout the day, there is adequate sunlight available for the plants.

MGE is working to provide pollinator habitat at our solar sites. That includes at our 22-megawatt O’Brien Solar Fields. MGE is in our second full year of a multiyear project to establish a pollinator habitat covering about 140 acres at the Fitchburg site.

A pollinator is a bee, butterfly or other agent that transfers pollen from one plant to another. This enables fertilization and the production of food such as berries, squash and walnuts.

Pollinator habitat timeline

The O’Brien project is the largest and most established habitat of those at MGE-owned and MGE-operated solar sites. Research shows that it takes three to five years for the habitat to reach optimal condition. The latter timeframe is more likely when plantings need to be redone or are slow to develop due to weather or other conditions. The O’Brien pollinator site is coming along very well, according to MGE’s Environmental and Sustainability team. The first monarch caterpillars were spotted there this year!

Selecting the right plants

Monarchs are a migrating butterfly. Fall flowering plants help them build energy before they make their trip to Mexico for winter. Spring flowering plants help feed them when they return to Wisconsin.

During the planning stages for the O’Brien pollinator habitat, MGE’s Environmental and Sustainability and Renewable Engineering teams worked together to select habitat-appropriate plants as well as a variety of native flowering plants that support bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators from spring through fall. For example, the teams included three types of native milkweeds to support monarchs, which have been declining in population for decades.

In addition to providing critical habitat, research shows that sites like O’Brien with native prairie plants also can help with stormwater infiltration, water quality, soil quality and erosion control.

Growing our use of solar

MGE is growing our use of solar to help to advance our carbon reduction goals. By 2030, every MGE electric customer will have 80% fewer carbon emissions from their electricity use simply by being an MGE customer!

published: Dec-19-2023