Utility-Scale Solar Construction: Best Practices for Reducing Costs and Ensuring Environmental Compliance
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The environmental benefits of solar power are well known as an energy source that emits minimal greenhouse gases during operation, but there are environmental risks to address during and after construction that cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, environmental stewardship can come with high costs. Using additional measures to minimize environmental impact can slow a project down, add unwanted costs, and prevent the owner from making full use of the land. The utility-scale solar industry has grown rapidly over the last decade and is set up to build on millions of acres of land across the globe in years to come. The electricity generated by these large plants will help mitigate the damaging effects of climate change by supplanting fossil fuels as an energy source, but the interaction between the solar farms and their local environment warrants further investigation. Future research will be required to quantify the local environmental impacts of solar farms, but these impacts have been observed and accounted for by professionals working in the industry over the last decade. I have personally been involved in the design and construction of several utility-scale solar projects totaling over 250 MW of capacity in the last three years. In that time, I’ve experienced the frustration of inconsistent guidance and regulatory hurdles regarding environmental management so I chose a capstone project that would help provide clarity and improve the efficiency of myself and the solar developers I work with. Experiences and insights were collected from professionals familiar with the construction of utility-scale solar farms as part of this study. By comparing the information obtained in the interviews, a series of best practices were identified to streamline the environmental protection portion of solar farm construction while being flexible enough to be applied across states with markedly different regulatory approaches.