The environmental benefits of Connexus Energy's solar-plus-storage project are obvious enough, but this time of year, you'll notice something more: prairie grasses and flowers planted under and around the sea of solar panels.
Pollinator-friendly plantings at large solar energy sites have become common in Minnesota in recent years. Not only do they provide habitat for the bee and butterfly populations people have been concerned about, but they also promote soil health and probably even boost the solar panels' electricity output on warm days.
The National Renewable Energy Lab is using the Ramsey Renewable Station and a couple dozen other sites around the country to test that.
"Their hypothesis is that thicker vegetation under and around solar panels creates a cooler microclimate, which actually generates more electricity from the panels," said Rob Davis, who directs the Center for Pollinators in Energy at the Minnesota advocacy group Fresh Energy.