The M-RETS platform—the leading renewable environmental attribute tracking system used by Fortune 25 companies, utilities, and regulators—this year will begin tracking an additional environmental attribute associated with grid-scale solar projects: a pollinator-friendly designation. M-RETS already tracks solar renewable energy credits (called S-RECs) and Minnesota is one of a number of states that have created an official standard and system recognizing solar projects that utilize ground cover that provides meaningful benefits to pollinators, song birds, and game birds. The M-RETS tracking platform will layer this pollinator standard data onto S-RECs to create a pollinator-friendly credit designation. This additional data gives solar energy buyers the opportunity to encourage the development of pollinator-friendly solar and stack additional environmental benefits on their energy purchase.
M-RETS is working directly with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), the state agency which manages a published list of solar projects that meet the relevant criteria. In addition to adding new projects, BWSR requires existing projects to re-score every three years and then updates the list accordingly. While currently only offered in Minnesota based on the state’s pollinator-friendly solar standard, this approach can be replicated in other markets where such standards exist.
M-RETS’ first utility partner in this initiative is Connexus Energy, the Midwest’s largest electric cooperative, which, back in 2014, developed the first solar project in Minnesota to meet the state’s standard for pollinator-friendly ground cover. Today the utility has 20 MW of local solar projects on more than 120 acres of land, featuring tens of millions of stems of pollinator-friendly flowering plants and native deep-rooted grasses. To further validate the suitability of the state solar groundcover standards, Connexus Energy works with scientists from Monarch Joint Venture, Argonne National Lab, and the National Renewable Energy Lab. For its commercial and residential members who participate in their solar offerings, as well as select commercial partners, Connexus retires S-RECs through M-RETS, along with its RECs from non-solar sources. Connexus Energy is now managing and retiring pollinator-friendly S-RECs with M-RETs for its members and partners.
Stacking additional local benefits into solar development—and associated energy procurement—is an increasingly important strategy to address concurrent environmental challenges as well as strengthen long-term public support.