Sweet Deal

Unique partnership creates nation’s first honey produced on a community solar garden

By Kevyn Burger
Wed, 2017-05-10 12:18

Connexus Energy’s community solar garden in Ramsey, MN. is multi-tasking.

In addition to producing renewable energy and delivering it to the electrical grid, the Connexus co-op solar garden will produce site-specific honey this summer.

Planted with a colorful pollinator-friendly mix of flowers and grasses, the acreage under and around ground-mounted solar panels is now home to 15 beehives installed and managed by St. Paul-based Bolton Bees.

“This is a very big deal,” says Travis Bolton of the partnership with Connexus. “This is a first in the nation, but it certainly will not be the last.”

The honey produced on the solar garden will be distributed to Connexus Energy solar garden subscribers and donated to local community fundraising events. It will be labeled as SolarWise Honey, with the Bolton Bees logo.

“We’ve contracted to produce 600 jars; that’s a conservative amount from 15 hives,” Bolton explains. “It’s amazing to see what one colony can produce; we can get 100-200 pounds of honey off one hive in a season.”

Bolton Bees registered a Federal Trademark for Solar Honey that will be available to other honey producers, electric cooperatives and solar businesses that produce honey from apiaries on or adjacent to pollinator-friendly solar arrays and follows the production standards set by Bolton Bees.

“We want other bee keepers to work with solar gardens, but want to set a standard of quality and legitimacy for these partnerships,” he adds. “We know that pairing clean, renewable energy with honey is something the public is interested in.”

Bolton, 34, and his 32-year-old wife Chiara began keeping bees in St. Paul in 2009, turning it into a full-time business three years ago. Chiara Bolton gained beekeeping expertise when she worked on an economic development project in rural Tibet.

In addition to producing and selling location-specific honey, Bolton Bees also raises and sells Minnesota-hardy queen bees and starter colonies to backyard beekeepers.

Last year, gross revenues for the company stood at $100,000. Bolton Bees is currently in growth mode, anticipating that it will double its 300 hives by the end of the year.

The company currently places its apiaries in numerous spots around Washington County and in areas near Park Rapids in north central Minnesota.

Bolton is curious to see how the first solar honey that will be harvested this fall will look and taste. He won’t venture a guess on how the combination of the flowers, soil and weather in the Connexus solar garden will combine to create a unique elixir produced by their bees.

“Honey flavor is a mystery. We have two bee yards up in northern Minnesota that are 30 miles apart. The honey from one is rich and smooth, good on pancakes, almost white in color. The other is a dark amber, we describe it as robust and spicy, pairs well with hard cheeses. It’s mind boggling that they could be so different.”

Connexus Energy is Minnesota’s largest customer-owned utility, providing electricity to 130,000 homes and businesses in portions of Anoka, Chisago, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Sherburne, and Washington counties.

Its allows its customers to purchase solar panels in the SolarWise Community garden and then receive credit on their electric bills based on the panel’s monthly electric generation.