Frequently Asked Questions
Energy buyers, including utilities, retail consumers and commercial businesses, are increasingly demanding carbon-free power for environmental as well as economic reasons. The price of solar panels and related equipment has dropped significantly over the past 15 years, and many states have established renewable portfolio standards, which require a percentage of power to be from renewables.
Why are you looking at this particular area?
We look for areas that have buildable land, good transmission facilities, and favorable permitting. Before any leasing activity occurs, we perform studies including transmission network studies, environmental screening, market analysis, site suitability, and review of permitting requirements. We continue to perform increasing levels of due diligence as the project advances during the first few years to identify and mitigate risks while ensuring the project is competitive and makes economic sense.
What is the operating life of a solar farm?
Solar farms have an expected 35-year life, much of which is covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. Solar panels can continue to produce energy past their warranty, though efficiencies may decrease. Once the panels are no longer efficient, the solar farm will be dismantled, upgraded or repowered, depending on terms of the land agreement, power needs and other market forces.
How are landowners compensated?
We are committed to open and transparent relationships with landowners. We have a standard lease that provides a highly competitive lease rate. Participation in the project is voluntary.
Is farmland taken out of production for solar farms?
We enter into voluntary land leases with landowners for the useful life of the solar farm. The land’s existing uses vary and include agricultural applications. The land, rested and restored, is returned to the landowner at the conclusion of the project life, at which time it can returned to farmland or other previous use.
Solar is a drought-resistant cash crop that will continue to benefit the landowner year in and year out, creating a reliable cash flow in what can be a very volatile market. Landowners typically find it is more economical to use their land for solar than for farming.
In addition, participating in the project allows landowners the flexibility to keep land in their family for future generations to farm.
Does solar impact nearby property values?
There are a number of factors that influence property values and the housing market, and no credible studies have shown an association between the presence of an operating solar field and negative long-term impact on the value of adjacent properties. Various reviews of solar fields and neighboring property values and home sales have confirmed there is no long-term impact.
Operating solar fields have minimal impact on the surrounding area: no sound outside the fence line; no odor or emissions; no tall towers or equipment (solar panels typically sit 12 feet or less from the ground); and no increase in local traffic.
Are there any health impacts associated with solar?
There are no health risks from solar fields, and solar panels are commonly installed on homes and schools.
In fact, solar fields are known for having a positive benefit on air quality. Solar fields generate clean, renewable power with zero air emissions and often replace older and less-efficient fossil fuel-based sources of power with significant air emissions. A study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows that this corresponds to a lower risk of respiratory issues and heart attacks.
Do solar farms produce noise?
Solar panels do not produce sound, but the inverters that change the current of electricity from DC to AC do produce a slight hum that is not audible past the property boundaries. Solar projects are considered quiet neighbors.
Do solar farms cause glare?
For optimal power generation, solar panels are designed to absorb sunlight, not reflect it. Glint/glare studies can be performed to assess potential impact. Further, it is common for airports to install solar arrays for power generation, without experiencing glare issues.
Are there any environmental concerns?
There is no evidence that solar farms have a negative impact on the environment. The solar industry in general takes environmental concerns very seriously. The vast majority of materials use common materials such as galvanized steel, stainless steel, and cable conduit with casings. The solar panels themselves are also built to withstand severe weather conditions.
Are there any toxins in solar panels that could leach into the land/water?
Solar panels do not consist of any liquids; therefore, if one were to be damaged, there would be no risk of contaminants spilling on the ground. Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s established tests demonstrate that solar modules do not leach toxins into the environment.
Does solar have any impact on wildlife?
Prior to constructing the project and as part of the permit process, environmental experts conduct environmental studies to assess any impacts on wildlife. Solar projects have been known to provide habitat for birds and pollinators like bees and butterflies from project landscaping and ground cover.
Local and state jurisdictions often require studies to be performed to assess the impact to certain species of wildlife, such as rare, threatened, or endangered species . Other impacts are assessed in an environmental site assessment.
Will you use pollinator friendly grasses?
We intend to put a vegetation management plan in place that relies, to the extent possible, on local flora that potentially maintains the current vegetation and is pollinator friendly. There are vegetation options that include herbivore-friendly species such as alfalfa (depending on local restrictions).
What will you do for weed control?
Our vegetation management plan will include weed/vegetation control, primarily through mowing. Weed control is critical to solar projects as weeds can impede maintenance access and cause reduced generation from shading. There are vegetation options that include herbivore-friendly species such as alfalfa (depending on local restrictions).
Who will construct the project?
An engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor will be hired. The EPC contractor performs design, completes engineering and manages construction of the plant. The EPC contractor also awards construction materials contracts and subcontracts for certain portions of the work. We encourage our EPC contractors to use local contractors and vendors when possible.
What kind of education/training/background is needed for operations jobs?
Generally, solar projects contract with experienced solar O&M (operations and maintenance) providers who then hire local employees with backgrounds as technicians and electricians or similar expertise. Additionally, local companies are periodically retained to provide support services consisting mainly of vegetation management but may also include occasional janitorial or snow removal services.
How do people get trained to work on solar installations?
Solar installation jobs require education and/or experience in solar, electrical, renewable energy, engineering technology or construction-related fields. There may also be certification exams available like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. We will be relying on the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor, who is not yet hired, to determine training and hiring requirements. We are open to working with local colleges and vocational programs to share information and possible opportunities.
How will the project use the roads (i.e. number of trucks, weight of trucks?
Prior to the start of construction, we will work with state and county agencies (as appropriate) to develop a detailed plan of the expected transportation routes, the number of trucks and maximum truck weights. The plan will also document the existing condition of the roadways. Any wear and tear on local roads will be repaired at the expense of the solar project.
What is the local benefit of the project?
The project will represent a large investment in the community. A utility scale solar project may add anywhere from $___ to $___ million to tax base over the 35-year life of the project depending on size and jurisdiction. This income will benefit schools, roads and other taxing districts. The ongoing lease payments also benefit the landowner and their heirs by providing a long-term source of income while preserving the underlying land use for future generations.
What is the general structure of the lease?
The lease has two terms. The Option Term is a period for up to 5 years during which we perform due diligence on the site and lease land for the project. There is little to no impact to the property during this time, and it may continue to be farmed or grazed until we provide a notice of commencement of construction. The Construction Term typically lasts about a year depending on project size. The Operations Term is typically 35 years with two optional 5 year extensions. The Operations Term begins at the completion of construction and continues through the life of the project. The lease clearly outlines our obligations as tenants, and we have narrowly defined rights that are focused solely on the development, construction and operation of the solar facilities.
What happens at the end of the lease term?
We will fully decommission the project, restoring the land to its original condition, or propose a new lease agreement to the landowner to continue the project. A bond or other form of security will also be in place for the decommissioning of the plant..
What is the decommissioning and solar disposal plan?
It is standard practice to have a decommissioning plan and cost estimate prior to the start of construction. In some cases, a letter of credit or bond is put in place to ensure there are resources to pay for the costs to decommission the project and restore the site.
Will I be able to continue to use the property during the Option Term?
Yes. Other than some environmental due diligence and soil sampling, the land can continue to be utilized by the owner during the Option Term. Prior to work starting, we provide the owner notice of Commencement of Construction. It is at that point the underlying uses of the land will need to cease to allow for construction.
How will the plant be decommissioned?
A decommissioning plan will be established as part of the permitting process. Upon decommissioning, the project and all its infrastructure will be removed. All posts will be pulled out of the ground, and all other facilities which generally include any access roads and buried collection will be removed, and the ground will be spot graded and leveled. Once the project is decommissioned, the land will be restored to its original condition.
How are the panels installed?
Galvanized steel posts that hold the panels in place are driven into the ground at a typical depth of 6 - 10 feet. They do not typically require concrete footings and will be removed upon decommissioning. The cable connecting the solar arrays will be above ground across the backs of the panels. We install a drive wire on a hanger above ground to minimize amount of buried cable. The panel arrays will be secured behind a chain link fence, and site will be kept mowed and maintained. It generally takes between 6 to 15 months to build a solar farm, depending on size.
Do you build access roads on the property?
Solar plants do not require extensive road construction, nor do they generate much vehicular traffic during operations. We may build a road to the array, but it would be limited to the extent that it would be built only for that purpose. It would be gravel, outside the fenced area, and could be used by the landowner if needed. The road would be removed at Decommissioning but we would leave it in place upon request by the landowner.
Where does the power go?
The power generated by the project will be sold either under a long-term Power Purchase Agreement or on the open market. Buyers typically include utilities, municipalities, local power cooperatives or commercial and industrial users.