Goodbye, dirty old coal-fired power plant. Hello, sunshine, bees and butterflies. That’s what the folks of Logansport, Indiana are saying as they trade their last coal power plant for a new 80-acre, 16-megawatt solar farm complete with a pollinator habitat.

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a painting of a green field with red flowers surrounding two rows of solar panels

Inovateus Solar, headquartered in South Bend, is developing the solar installation for Logansport Municipal Utility (LMU). The project will take place on former farmland near the city’s light industrial area. LMU aims to reduce its carbon emissions and help stabilize customer costs. The solar farm will generate enough power for about 3,700 homes.

Related: Celebrate National Pollinator Week from June 22-28

Power purchase agreement

The old coal-fired power plant toiled for over 120 years before recently shutting down. In its wake, Alchemy Renewable Energy financed a 30-year power purchase agreement with LMU. Alchemy is a portfolio company of Monarch Private Capital. Founded in 2016, Alchemy’s projects include building solar installations in North Carolina, Florida and Texas.

A solar power purchase agreement (PPA) is a financial arrangement where the developer is responsible for designing, permitting, financing and installing a solar energy system on a customer’s property. The customer pays little or nothing for the setup but agrees to pay a fixed rate to the developer for the power generated. The developer gets the income from electricity sales as well as tax credits and incentives earned by the renewable energy system. After the term of the agreement — typically 10 to 25 years — the customer can buy the solar installation, extend the PPA or get the developer to remove the system.

The contract between LMU and Alchemy Renewable Energy allows LMU to purchase the solar power at a fixed kilowatt-hour rate with no upfront capital costs. LMU has the option to eventually buy the solar energy system.

“Inovateus is excited to be working with Alchemy to develop LMU’s first solar energy installation for the citizens and businesses of Logansport,” Jordan Richardson, Inovateus Solar’s business development manager, said in a press release. “We want to thank the City of Logansport, LMU, the Logansport Utility Service Board, Alchemy, Cass County, and all the residents who helped us to design a solar system that will create local jobs and enhance the city’s natural habitats.”

a painting of a green field with red flowers surrounding a row of solar panels

Bees and butterflies

The plan is to complete the solar installation construction in early 2021, then plant a pollinator seed mix underneath the solar panels. This mix will attract bees and butterflies more than traditional groundcover, which will be beneficial for these species and local farmers. Inovateus will partner with Fresh Energy and the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund for this phase of the project.

Combining beneficial insects and solar is part of a growing trend. “Pollinator-friendly solar is rapidly emerging as a best practice for all solar farms build on arable soils or prime farmland,” Rob Davis, director of the Center for Pollinators in Energy at Fresh Energy, told Inhabitat. “Within the last year, Clif Bar, Aveda, Dr. Bronners, Organic Valley, Perdue Farms, Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Denison University, University of Dayton, and many more have announced or build and seeded pollinator-friendly solar project.” According to Davis, the 80-acre project site will plant more than 40 species of pollinator-friendly plants, including sky blue aster, purple coneflower, crimson clover, goldenrod and lemon bee balm.

The project will benefit local butterflies, bees and farmers, too. “We have about 430 species of bees, 140 species of butterflies, thousands of moth species…and many species of flower-visiting flies, wasps, ants, and beetles,” said Dr. Brock Harpur, an entomologist at Purdue University. “These new landscapes can provide nesting sites and food sources for pollinators that need it most.”

Attracting more pollinators will also benefit certain crops, Davis said. “Having a diverse assemblage of pollinators (not just one or a few species) can dramatically improve crop yield. By providing food and habitat for pollinators, we can, potentially, boost the number of pollinators in an area and help surrounding farms be pollinated more efficiently.” 

Plants will also benefit the solar panels by creating a cooler micro-climate. Deep-rooted plants can boost resilience to both drought and heavy rains.

a painting of a green field with red flowers surrounding a row of solar panels

Celebrating solar

After continuously operating coal-fired smokestack power plants for 122 years, Logansport closed its last one in 2016. The city looks forward to a solar future. In fact, people are so excited about it that Mayor Chris Martin signed an official proclamation naming June 26 as Bird & Pollinator-Friendly Solar Day. Fittingly, this date falls within National Pollinator Week.

“We are proud to work with Inovateus Solar to bring the first ever solar energy project to Logansport,” said Martin. “How exciting to be a part of pioneering this clean, alternative energy source right here in our community that will help curb LMU energy costs for our consumers. The creation of a bee and butterfly habitat will also be a great environmentally friendly addition to the city’s west side!”

+ Rob Davis and Dr. Brock Harpur

Images via Schuler Publicity