Utility Scale Solar
What is it: These solar installations are interconnected in and around rural areas and communities and provide local benefits of resilience and renewable energy. Currently Oregon has ______ projects in operation totaling ______ MW.
The Workforce: These projects require a range of skills from solar installer to land-use lawyers and project managers. Typically, utility scale solar developers manage the process from beginning to end. Oregon is home to a few of the utility scale solar developers that work in the state.
Project sizes and locations: In Oregon, small scale utility solar installations are most common and range between 1-20MW. Most of these projects are less than 5MW and fit on 12 acres. You can learn where the 15 largest projects are in Oregon on ODOE’s Solar Dashboard, here.
How does Utility Solar fit into your community ?
Utility solar isn’t appropriate just anywhere, important considerations include site location, contiguous land available, and more.
Choosing the Proper Location for Utility Solar
Choosing the right location considerations include:
A willing land owner that is interested in augmenting their revenue with a solar site lease.
A site that is very close to an existing power line to interconnect with.
A fairly flat piece of land that does not have excessive slope to it. Preferably it has been utilized in the past (ie not forested, fallow farmland, cleared in the past) or is suitable without a significant effort.
Suitable land may be reclaimed land, but not hazardous.
The amount of land needed for utility solar is limited by several factors:
A single site can be as small as 5-12 acres. Other projects can up to 70 acres or so, depending on needs.
The number of utility solar projects in any one location is limited by the space available on the power lines. There is typically only enough space for a few of these projects in close proximity.
Typical utility solar projects use about 5 - 7 acres per MW.
Dual Use Sites
Sometimes called co-location, dual-use solar combines utility-scale solar arrays with conservation and agricultural activities to create a multifunction system with a variety of benefits. Dual-use solar can address concerns about solar on agricultural land and well as support efforts around conservation and the preservation of crucial pollinators (RNW Dual use report).
Oregon is now home to the nation’s largest solar apiary, a product of months of coordinated planning among Old Sol Apiaries, Pine Gate Renewables, a developer of utility solar farms in South Carolina and Oregon, and Lomakatsi Restoration Project, an Ashland-based ecological restoration organization.
Dual use solar has been a growing research topic for research institutions like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Oregon State University (OSU), and the Nature Conservancy. NREL has been collaborating with utility solar developers and has created the InSPIRE initiative around this idea of supporting solar best practices that include a bigger focus on maintaining vegetation and combining solar with agricultural production. OSU has their own test sites and partnerships with solar developers to research co-developing land for agrivoltaics and they have found there is ‘a huge potential for solar and agriculture to work together,” in a recently published report Solar Power PV Potential is Greatest Over Croplands. Another OSU study found that Solar panels increase grasses for sheep and cows by 90%.
Impacts of Utility Solar and Agriculture
Utility solar typically has less impact on the land and surrounding environment than most other development practices.
The land lies fallow for the life of the solar system and the land can be fully restored to its original condition at the end of the projects life.
Very small areas have concrete coverage - your average house has more…and farm buildings typically have much more.
They quietly produce some of the cleanest energy on the planet.
Utility solar can be dual use when appropriate, integrating seamlessly into adjacent farming communities.
There are four main types of dual-use solar: pollinator friendly, conservation, grazing, and agrivoltaics (crops and solar).
Solar energy can offer an additional crop that farmers can add to their fields which provides income and ancillary benefits to their community.
Community benefits include increased pollinator services, decreased pesticide use, increased native pollinator habitat and population, increased soil and water health, local clean energy production, county tax benefits, local job opportunities, etc.
Utility solar has little to no environmental impact.
They don’t have any air emissions like other power plants or farms
They don’t negatively impact wildlife
They don't impact air quality
They don't impact water sources
They don’t use pesticides
They don’t use fertilizers
They use limited amounts of herbicides to control noxious weeds
They don’t have waste products that impact nearby waterways
Benefits to Oregon Land Owners, Utilities, Municipalities, and Residents
Economic & Financial Benefits of utility scale solar include:
Allowing utilities to pass on cost savings to customers after purchasing clean energy and achieving economies of scale
Providing revenue opportunities to landowners on land that may not be as useful for farming
Providing tax benefits to municipalities and counties
Cost reduction strategies are leveraged by the other sectors, reducing costs in all market sectors
Mitigating against the risks of climate change
Environmental Benefits of utility scale solar include
Carbon emission reduction to mitigate against Oregon and PNW specific climate impacts:
Forest fires - Oregon’s fire season is lengthening requiring more resources than ever (article)
Shellfish industry - warmer oceans have increased the acidity, harming oyster farming in Oregon (article)
Water cycles - less snowpack and increased variable streamflow during winter with decreased streamflow in the late spring and summer and increased likelihood for flooding for example (article)
Farming and energy production on the same site when dual use practices are applied
Electrical Grid benefits include
Federal, State, and Local Policies, Regulations, and Reports
Renewable NW Dual Use Report (Sept 2019)
National Renewable Energy Lab InSPIRE Low Impact Solar Development Basics
Oregon Climate Agenda (November 2018)
Oregon State University Solar PV Power Potential is Greatest over Cropland (August 2019)