Oil giant BP’s Lightsource subsidiary has started construction of a “pollinator-friendly” PV farm in California that is part of a wider community renewables progamme designed to offer the environmental benefits of solar power “without having to install it on every rooftop”.

Power from the 16.5MW Wildflower project will supply some 2,600 homes via the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Neighborhood SolarShares scheme, which was hatched to provide clean-energy to new housing developments through off-site utility-scale solar plants.

But the $20m project, located in Rio Linda north of Sacramento, has been designed with ecology specialists to go beyond renewable energy production to be “a net gain for local biodiversity”, according to Lightsource BP, “by restoring and conserving pollinator habitat”.

“The affordability of solar, combined with its generation of emissions free electricity has made it an ideal source to add to our country’s energy mix,” said Lightsource BP Americas CEO Kevin Smith.

“Adding on benefits such as community solar programs that help contribute to affordable housing, along with implementing long-term land management plans that enhance local biodiversity, are all ways that we can work together to multiply solar’s contribution to our nation’s economy and environment.”

Arlen Orchard, SMUD CEO, added: “This program provides options to builders and a net benefit to potential homebuyers, all while providing clean power to our community.

“The state of California and the Sacramento region are facing an affordable housing crisis and our low-cost solar option provides a valuable tool to lower the construction costs of new homes while supporting carbon reduction goals.”

Lightsource bp secured tax equity financing for the project from Guardian Life Insurance via its partnership with the Rockwood Group, with the UK’s National Westminster Bank, a major European bank and project financing lender, as the senior project finance debt lender. The balance of the equity will be covered by Lightsource BP.

Construction Innovations has partnered with local contractors to build the project, which is slated for commercial start-up by the end of 2020.