Utility-Scale Solar Development

Solar power projects range in size and scope from installing a residential set of roof panels to building a solar power plant. In this post, we’ll be getting into the latter; let’s talk about all things utility-scale solar development!

What is utility-scale development?

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) defines a utility scale solar project as one generating over 1 megawatt (MW) of energy. Other organizations skew a little higher in their threshold for MW generated, as high as 5MW or more. Regardless of exact numbers of MW generated, utility scale solar projects are large, usually on over 50 acres of land and generating enough power to sell to an electricity market. They’re regulated federally and regionally. It can also be known as merchant-scale solar energy. 

Why do it?

Utility-scale solar development is a growing industry, and it is playing an increasingly important role in the transition to clean energy. Solar power is a clean, renewable resource that can help to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Utility-scale solar plants can also help create jobs and boost the local economy. For developers, they hold huge financial potential.

Special considerations for landowners

We are seeing a lot of growth and interest in this area. Typically, a company or solar developer will approach landowners, often farmers, and offer to buy or lease their land for a utility-scale solar project. Here are a few things landowners must think about before considering:

  • The money: Solar developers will typically offer landowners a one-time payment for their land, or a long-term lease agreement. Be sure you structure the financials to cover your costs.
  • Environmental impact: It is important to understand the potential environmental impacts of the project before agreeing to sell or lease your land.
  • Community impact: Utility-scale solar projects can also have a significant impact on your neighbors, property values, and quality of life.
  • Legal considerations: There are a number of legal considerations that landowners need to be aware of before selling or leasing their land for a utility-scale solar project; we recommend having an attorney review the contract before signing anything.
  • The developer’s reputation: Know who you’re working with. You can check with your state’s attorney general’s office to see if there have been any complaints against the developer.
  • Your gut: Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to sell or lease your land for a utility-scale solar project is a personal one. Consider your own feelings about the project and how it will impact you and your family.

It is important to carefully consider all these factors before making a decision. If you are unsure about what to do, it is always a good idea to consult with an expert in the field, like our BAI team. We work with landowners considering offers like this often and can help!

Special considerations for developers

Creating a utility-scale solar project can be profitable and rewarding. Before you jump into a project, developers should consider some of these important factors and issues that may arise:

  • Site selection: The first step is to find a suitable site for the solar plant. The site should be large enough to accommodate the desired number of solar panels, have good access to the grid, and be in an area with high solar insolation (sunlight).
  • Permitting: Once you’ve selected a site, you must obtain the necessary permits from the local government. This process can vary from one jurisdiction to another, but it typically involves submitting a site plan and environmental impact statement. Additionally, understand the overall regulatory environment for utility-scale solar development in your state, as it can vary by region.
  • Interconnection: The developer must also work with the local utility company to interconnect the solar plant to the grid. This process involves designing and building the interconnection facilities, and it can be a complex and time-consuming process.
  • Financing: Utility-scale solar projects are expensive to build, so developers need to secure financing before they can begin construction. There are a number of different financing options available, including debt financing, equity financing, and government grants.
  • Construction: Once the developer has secured financing and obtained all of the necessary permits, they can begin construction. Construction typically takes several months to complete.
  • Operation and maintenance: Once the solar plant is constructed, the developer is responsible for operating and maintaining it for its lifespan. This includes tasks such as monitoring the plant’s performance, making repairs, and cleaning the solar panels.
  • The competitive landscape: The utility-scale solar development market is becoming increasingly competitive. It is important to develop a competitive strategy for your project.
  • The community: It is important to engage with the local community early in the development process. This will help to identify any concerns that the community may have about the project and to address those concerns.

Getting started in a utility-scale solar project can be a complex and challenging process, but it is also a rewarding one. By carefully considering all of the factors involved, developers can increase their chances of success. For over 35 years, the BAI Group has provided technical consulting services to private and public entities typically involved with environmental development projects. The services we traditionally provide our clients include studies, designs, permit applications, construction management/CQA along with other compliance monitoring and reporting activities. Contact us today for a cost-effective approach to your renewable energy system needs.