Washington DC Solar Park Design that Cares for Creation

650,000 pollinator-friendly plants will soon be paired with 5,000 solar panels, forming the largest ground solar array in Washington DC, thanks in part to Fresh Energy’s advocacy work.

Late last year, Solar Energy Services, an accomplished Washington DC-based development company, reached out to Fresh Energy’s Center for Pollinators in Energy with a hunch and an interest in learning more. Solar Energy Services had completed numerous projects throughout the region, noticed the fast-emerging best practice of pollinator-friendly solar development, and was ready to get started.

Solar Energy Services had identified a specific project to be their first and needed a positive outcome. Catholic Energies, a non-profit organization that aids churches in benefitting from solar energy, originated the project to be built on land owned by the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington DC. Revenue and clean energy from the project would help Catholic Charities further both its social and environmental mission.

After a review of the draft project plans and learning more about the partners, Fresh Energy connected Solar Energy Services to skilled practitioners in the region to inform plans which would get the very best outcome. The plans called for replacing a 5-acre expanse of sloping turfgrass lawn with a 2-megawatt solar array—more than 5,000 panels—on a racking system holding the panels 32 inches above the ground.

With the right team engaged, the project plans were updated to include establishment of more than 650,000 pollinator-friendly plants throughout the site through a combination of drill seeding and planting robust landscape plugs (young plants). Communication to the community and local authorities provided regular updates and Fresh Energy provided images that were used in public meetings and on-site signage, as well as best-practice guidance in media outreach.

Fresh Energy’s work resulted in the Washington Post’s coverage of the project including multiple paragraphs about the pollinator meadow that will grow under and around the panels. And when both the Ohio Business Journal and Washington Business Journal ran a story about the project, Fresh Energy was able to work with the outlet’s editors to get the photo changed to correctly show a pollinator-friendly solar array—instead of using a photo from solar array covered in tons of gravel.

Community response when you’re building anything new is most commonly unfavorable. But by working with Fresh Energy, Solar Energy Systems earned online praise, from a realtor no less who said “This beats luxury townhomes” after seeing a sign posted about the proposed pollinator flowering solar park. And when Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser joined new Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Catholic Charities CEO Sister Donna Markham, and other dignitaries for a blessing of the solar project, the video live stream and photos conveyed Care for Creation in showing a flowering solar park landscape.

Fresh Energy is proud to have shared our knowledge and access to resources to advance the creative and smart use of land and vegetation on this and other projects.

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