October 20, 2021

The Environmental Impacts of Turning to Solar Energy

It’s no secret the world is turning to solar energy. The first reason is that it’s a clean, renewable source of energy; sunlight is essentially infinite, and collecting it for energy purposes doesn’t release any harmful pollutants into the environment. A massive expansion of solar electricity is a crucial part of the United State’s plans to reach 80% renewable energy by the beginning of the next decade. This is essential to cutting carbon emissions and slowing catastrophic climate change — which poses a dire threat to plants, humans, and animals the world over. As developers race to create large-scale solar operations, they must be careful to not damage local ecosystems.

Effects of Solar Panels

Solar panels (also known as solar photovoltaic cells) that power solar farms collect sunlight and convert it into electricity, which can be used to power homes and businesses. Unfortunately, some toxic materials and chemicals are used to make certain types of photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into electricity. To manage this, the U.S. government has implemented environmental laws to regulate the use and disposal of these types of materials.

Solar’s Effect on Existing Land

When generating electricity at a large scale, solar energy facilities necessitate large areas for energy collections. On top of that, solar facilities will often cover the existing land with graded packed dirt, gravel, or mowed grass, further harming local biodiversity. Photovoltaic panels shade the land while blocking some areas from rainfall and dousing others with heavy runoff. This changes the growing conditions for plants, with implications for other connected species. These effects can be handled by developers taking over abandoned or unused land, and by implementing agrivoltaic and/or photovoltaic systems. Agrivoltaics involves developing the same area of land for both solar power and agriculture and can result in increased growth of crops.

To learn more about the positive effects of agrivoltiac systems, read our blog here

The Positive Effects of Solar on Land

Some solar operators are reimagining their facilities as prime protected habitats for native plants, bringing back key local species and potentially improving lands that have already been disturbed.

To help prevent negative effects on native plants and insects, fifteen states now have pollinator-friendly solar scorecards that aim to measure the actual impact of solar projects on the crucial creatures that carry pollen from plant to plant. Experts suggest switching from maintained grass to native plantings. In the Midwest, it was found that native plants bring in three times the number of pollinators and help to boost the carbon storage potential by 65%. This approach also helps to reduce the need for harmful herbicides. 

How ClearPath Energy is Working to Handle the Potential Negative Effects of Solar Energy

ClearPath’s community solar farms work with landowners to lease their land, and land-owners can continue to farm and use their land like normal. ClearPath Energy also follows strict guidelines when disposing solar photovoltaic panels so no hazardous materials are released. ClearPath also does an environmental impact assessment on all potential community solar sites. This assessment asks the following:

  • Will it be adjacent to a historic or archeological resource?
  • Will it result in the modification or destruction of, or inhibit access to, any unique or unusual landforms on the site?
  • Will it affect one of more wetlands or other surface water bodies?
  • Could it result in a loss of flora or fauna?
  • Will it result in a loss of recreational opportunities or a reduction of an open space resource as designated in any adopted municipal open space plan?

ClearPath is committed to creating positive environmental change every day.