Don’t Underestimate Stormwater Management during Solar PV Site Due Diligence
When considering a parcel for development, get expert advice on stormwater considerations early on.
Stormwater considerations are essential in determining actual useable terrain for power generation.
If the civil engineer's findings conclude that less terrain will be available for PV installation, there may be ways to mitigate for the lesser power generated. A Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) on-site is one example.
As any developer or EPC knows, gaining project approval in a “NIMBY” community can be a perilous process. Easily overlooked issues on what seems to be a picture-perfect parcel can snowball into insurmountable project blockers.
Take stormwater, for instance.
Our client, in the early development stages of a 2.5 MW project in Western Massachusetts, learned this lesson the hard way when insufficient review regarding stormwater management nearly put the project on life support. Rather than leading to a dead end, though, we were able to afford them the time and resources they needed to find a new path to a cost-effective, profitable solution.
The Stormwater Tsunami
The project lead on the solar development project stood before a hostile crowd at the Planning Board meeting in a close-knit rural Massachusetts town. The air simmered with tension in Town Hall as residents raised one objection after the next:
“How is this going to impact property values?”
“Isn’t one solar farm in town enough?”
“What effect is this going to have on the local black bear population?”
Having dealt with many similar complaints, the lead was able to address each concern with a confidence backed by evidence. He could breathe easy later when reporting back to his design team and investors.
But soon after, when land surveying revealed the true scope of the site’s wetland and stormwater issues, his stomach turned. For all his confidence, he hadn’t anticipated that the extent of nearby wetland resource areas, and associated DEP and local requirements, would mean significant changes to site layout – notably less space for the proposed system, and, as a result, a 10-15% decrease in potential capacity.
After making many promises to his stakeholders, he worried the site layout changes would render the project unprofitable, killing the deal altogether.
Short Term Problems, Long Term Solutions
While initially displeased, to say the least, about Meridian’s land survey findings, the project lead ultimately found that knowledge saved him significant time, money, and resources, and provided him a clever way to give the project new life.
The developers had brought Meridian in still relatively early in the process. Because of this, they gained enough time to reevaluate site layout alternatives without having already sunk significantly more funds and resources into an unviable plan. They opted to include a battery energy storage system (BESS) in the scaled-down array design, which would allow the project to remain profitable even on the scaled-back panel footprint.
With over twenty years in the solar business, Meridian Associates has developed a keen eye for spotting potential project and permitting pitfalls and opportunities. Our detailed, timely observations allow developers to adapt to site limitations before they become a much bigger issue.
Look out for our ongoing “IN•SITES” series for more information on how considering civil/site design during due diligence can save time, money, and better assure permitting success.
In addition, please visit our Solar Market page to discover some of the other services Meridian can provide for your solar site plan, as well as some examples of our previous projects.
About the Expert
PRINCIPAL OF LAND DEVELOPMENT & RENEWABLE ENERGY
Chris Ryan leads Meridian Associates’ renewable energy practice. A principal of the firm with over 20 years of civil engineering experience, Chris has been involved in over 100 megawatts (MW) of ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays across Massachusetts and Maine. Chris has expertise in stormwater management, survey, and use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) in horizontal construction projects. He maintains client relationships with key Meridian solar development partners and municipal clients, leading stormwater and other civil site design projects.