The world needs inexpensive and sustainable renewable energy, and solar power leads the push for building a net-zero future. But for every noble cause, pushback exists. In the case of solar, one source of pushback has come from residents cautious of utility-scale solar projects built in their communities.
How can the solar industry, specifically utility-scale solar EPCs and project developers, counter misinformation and hostility to deploy the urgent renewable energy the country needs to decarbonize? A critical process to overcoming this pushback involves EPCs and developers engaging local communities and building broad consensus. Let’s take a look at what this entails.
Some Residents Show Concerns for Solar Projects
The cost of solar installations declining by more than 50% over the past ten years has allowed solar to grow at an unprecedented pace. Despite this, utility-scale solar deployment has not always been smooth sailing. In some instances, well-intentioned projects have faced enough opposition that EPCs and developers have had to abandon their plans.
In one recent example, the proposed Battle Born Solar Project in Moapa Valley, Nevada, would have been the largest solar farm in the US. Initial estimates for the 850MW plant forecast the creation of more than 2,000 jobs and enough renewable energy generation to power over 500,000 homes during the day. But developers canceled the project because residents thought the plant would be an eyesore and that it would disrupt access to the area. Access to transmission lines also influenced the developers’ decision, adding another variable to the already complex equation of siting a new utility-scale solar plant.
But this isn’t always the case. Like Nevada, Virginia locals opposed the creation of the largest solar farm east of the Rockies. The fears of Spotsylvania County residents ran the gamut from cadmium leakage to project abandonment and timberland destruction to declining property values.
The project continued as planned due to education efforts by the developers, EPCs, and utility that provided the public with easy-to-understand data that alleviated concerns. This information included showing that the local forest would hide most of the solar farm, project abandonment would be known far in advance due to the companies having to file a decommissioning plan, no substantial evidence existed to back claims of declining property values, and that broken panels would not result in any groundwater contamination.
Engaging Residents Through Education
In Virginia, education efforts were extreme but effective. Stakeholders brought white papers to the public with hard facts that countered the arguments against solar power. Some of the process was contentious but necessary. The back and forth between communities, companies, and regulators were ongoing. However, the project ultimately created thousands of jobs in this Virginian county, and the PV system will provide clean power for the community for decades. Education helped solar win this particular fight.
This victory demonstrates the importance of educating residents by demonstrating that the projects are necessary due to significant inadequacies in their current energy infrastructure and that the proposed project offers a better choice.
When engaging communities, EPCs and developers should work closely with utilities, independent power providers (IPPs), and electrical co-ops to make it easier for residents to participate in the planning process. Inviting community members to participate in the process, educating them on system benefits, and listening to and considering their concerns can be the difference-maker in overcoming residents’ pushback on local utility-scale solar projects.
Considerations When Engaging Communities About Local Utility Solar Deployment
Notify communities at the earliest stage in development possibly about proposed new utility-scale solar projects in their area.
Convene informal town halls to help residents learn about the project and the environmental and economic benefits their communities will receive.
Create brochures, digital content, and other informational documents using non-technical language that residents can easily understand.
Work with the communities’ choices to represent their interests and serve as their technical advocates.
Study and pursue community-informed options and engage in collaborative efforts with affected residents.
Utility-Scale Solar Solution for Project Success
Once EPCs and developers can build consensus for a local utility-scale solar power plant, much work remains. The next step involves deploying reliable and ultra-high-powered PV modules paired with trackers in an optimized system design. This will boost utility-scale solar power plant gains and cut CAPEX and BOS costs to lower a project’s levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). Higher yield with reduced costs allows EPCs and developers to deliver the most solar project value for the utility customer and the local community.
TrinaPro bundles the ultra-high-powered Vertex N modules with the innovative TrinaTracker and best-in-class inverters in a one-stop shop utility-scale solar solution that streamlines procurement, optimizes installations, and improves PV system performance.
Want to learn more about maximizing utility-scale solar projects? Contact our US-based TrinaPro team to learn how we can help developers and EPCs expand their utility-scale solar potential.
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