Permeable Fencing Helps Make NC Solar Farms Wildlife-Friendly

DURHAM, N.C. – Permeable fencing could help make solar-energy facilities in North Carolina more wildlife-friendly.

The Nature Conservancy, along with the North Carolina Pollinator Conservation Alliance and other groups, has teamed up with solar companies to figure out how to better integrate solar farms into the landscape. Around 40,000 acres of land in the state are being used to harvest solar energy, a number that is expected to increase. On these sites, hundreds of solar panels generate electricity that’s fed into a grid, supplying consumers with clean energy.

“We identified that there are a bunch of practices out there that could be applied to solar farms, so people could install things like this wildlife-permeable fence, which is a fence with larger holes in it than a traditional chain-link fence,” said Liz Kalies, director of science at the Nature Conservancy’s North Carolina chapter. “The idea is that it allows for small- to medium-sized animals to move freely through the fence.”

Charlotte-based developer Birdseye Renewable Energy was the first to install permeable fencing at one of its facilities in Tennessee. Footage from motion-sensitive cameras revealed that raccoons, rabbits and other critters are able to move safely through the fencing. Based on this evidence, Pine Gate Renewables in Asheville installed permeable fencing at sites in Johnston and Moore counties. North Carolina is a leader nationwide in solar-energy capacity, along with California and Arizona.

Kalies said the solar farms where the permeable fencing is installed are located near dense forests that are home to diverse wildlife populations. She said she hopes the fencing will catch on as a tool to ensure that animals don’t get squeezed out of their habitats.

“We’re going to be putting in more and more solar farms and, at some point, that amount of habitat removal, that amount of habitat loss, is going to matter,” she said. “We don’t know what that number is, and so we need to start preparing for it and mitigating against it.”

As the need for clean-energy solutions increases, Kalies pointed out that permeable fencing, along with other techniques such as planting pollinator vegetation, could help balance out the environmental impact of solar farms.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment.