Erosion and Sediment Control
Lessons Learned from Solar Farm Construction in North Carolina
Drive along some country roads in this State, and you’ll see all kinds of farms – we’ve got tobacco, hogs, and your favorite (or not-so-favorite) veggies. But the fastest growing farms in North Carolina? Those would be solar farms!
Lots of sunshine, affordable land, and financial incentives have led to a boom in commercial and utility scale solar development across North Carolina. Ten years ago, we began to see smaller scale solar projects proposed in our State, but the size and scale of these types of projects almost tripled between 2014 and 2015. Since then, these solar projects have continued to be constructed at a steady pace. In fact - North Carolina currently ranks 2nd in the nation for solar installation capacity and we are projected to remain in the top 4 states for solar growth over the next 5 years. When dealing with a newer, emerging type of construction in your State, sometimes it’s hard to sort fact from fiction.
Misconceptions and challenges abound when facing a surge of solar farm construction for the first time and reviewing or designing erosion control plans that will be effective for these types of projects. How different are these solar projects from any others you may review or inspect? It is important for regulators to understand how solar development can be similar to other types of development projects – but just as importantly, how it differs. Other questions you may face as you begin to see solar development include: How much land is really being “disturbed” during this process? Is this construction truly as “green” as many solar developers would have you believe? Are the solar installations ultimately considered “impervious” or not? How do you manage post construction stormwater on these sites?
With hundreds of acres of disturbance on many of these projects - and a sometimes mind-boggling pace of construction - there are plenty of chances for environmental protections to go very wrong. As a regulator or plan designer, it is important to be able to identify key elements to include in erosion and sedimentation control plans for these projects and to spot possible problems before construction begins. The erosion and sedimentation control should focus on implementation of early stabilization, perimeter erosion and sediment control measures, and limiting the time of exposure. Those elements are key to good erosion and sedimentation control for any project – but they are not always enough for construction on this scale. Utility scale solar projects often need additional interior measures, adjustments in the field, and creative solutions in order to be successful during all phases of construction. Participants in this roundtable have experience reviewing and inspecting all phases of solar farm construction and will share our experiences and lessons learned along the way.
And what about after construction? How should you address post-construction stormwater during the life of the facility? This is an emerging challenge as well, as solar construction does not fit as easily into the typical post-construction framework for residential or commercial projects. We will share with you the strategies that North Carolina has implemented to address post-construction stormwater issues on solar farms and what we have learned over the years.
This roundtable session will explore the misconceptions, challenges, and “lessons learned” for erosion and sedimentation control on these sites during construction, as well as approaches and considerations for post-construction stormwater management. Experienced regulators and policy makers on this panel will highlight the difficulty in balancing the need for environmental protection with the fast-paced construction and unique challenges of these projects.