Solar Pollinator source credit: SCDNR

Solar Pollinator Certification

photo credit: SCDNR

SC Solar Habitat Program

New to 2020, the Department of Fertilizer Regulation and Certification Services (FRCS) has teamed up with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), Clemson University (CU) Extension Service, and Audubon South Carolina to offer the Certified Solar Habitat program.  This certification program provides a framework to encourage the planting and maintenance of pollinator habitats at solar farms.  

Certified Solar Habitat Program

The Certified Solar Habitat program offers yearly training for environmental consultants, utilities, solar developers and landowners, led by CU Extension. This training will focus mainly on how to establish pollinator plant species and manage them within a solar farm. All applicants must have a representative attend this training for your site to become a Certified Solar Habitat.

Solar Developers interested in the program must submit an application to the Department of FRCS for review. Once your solar site prep and plan are approved, your site will be designated a Certified Solar Habitat In Progress. 

Following two growing seasons after establishment, FRCS Inspectors will inspect your solar site.  If the criteria are met that have been established and included in the SC Solar Guidance,  your site will be Certified Solar Habitat on a Gold or Silver level.  Solar farms that plant underneath the panels and edges of property in pollinator species will be certified as Gold.  Those solar farms that only plant the edges and not underneath the panels will be certified as Silver.  Sites will be inspected again following two additional growing seasons (year four).  At year five, a solar farm will be under review for recertification with an additional site visit.  Signage should be displayed to exhibit the site is a Certified Solar Habitat in Progress or Certified. 

Check out the Solar Habitat Guidance to determine if you think solar habitat is a good fit for your solar site. 

For questions about this program, please contact Dr. Sarah Wilbanks at 864-646-2147 or adams9@clemson.edu

Solar in SC Overview

In June 2014, Act 236 (SC Code of Laws Title 58 Chapter 39) was signed into law. This legislation required the development of renewable energy facilities as a part of South Carolina’s electrical utilities peak demand. This led to South Carolina’s solar industry boom. Additionally, in 2019, Act 62 (SC Code of Laws Title 58 Chapter 27 and 41) legislation passed encouraging utilities to develop voluntary renewable energy programs and neighborhood community solar programs. In 2017, according to the Smart Electric Power Alliance, South Carolina was fourth in the country in new solar capacity per state, following behind California, Texas and North Carolina. The 2019 Smart Electric Power Alliance Utility Solar Market Report states that 571.3 megawatts of solar energy is online in South Carolina.   

The increase in solar generation creates competition on the landscape, adding another land use to compete with the traditional working land uses, such as agriculture and silvicultre.  Solar farms can also adversely affect valuable natural resources if they are not properly planned and constructed.  However, adding pollinator habitat to a properly sited and constructed solar farm can provide benefits to the solar developer and the solar farms’ neighbors.

Spurred from an initiative by Audubon South Carolina with the support of SCDNR, the South Carolina Solar Habitat Act (§50-4-10) was signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster, taking effect on June 1, 2018. The Act provides a voluntary framework to encourage owners of ground-mounted commercial solar energy generation sites to follow voluntary site management practices that:

  • provide native perennial vegetation and foraging habitats beneficial to gamebirds, songbirds and pollinators; and
  • reduce stormwater runoff and erosion at the solar generation site.

CU Regulatory Services and CU Extension entered into an agreement with SCDNR to assist in the implementation of the SC Solar Habitat Act in the fall of 2019.