Erosion and Sediment Control
Solar Facility Construction in the Southeast United States – We’re Not in the Desert Anymore
The United States is among the top countries in the world in electricity generated by the sun. The desert southwest is home to some of the largest and oldest operating g solar facilities in the US. In the last decade, solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 50%.
As utility-scale solar power plants have become more accepted by communities and more attractive to investors, facility sites are becoming larger and larger. Facilities are also being constructed in areas where solar has not always been a first consideration for land use.
Solar generation offsets more than 73 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year, which is roughly equivalent to planting nearly 1.2 billion trees. This is an impressive fact. Another tree-related fact is that in order to construct a utility-scale solar facility in the southeastern United States, trees must be removed… a lot of them.
As solar facility owners, designers, contractors have expanded their territories from the desert southwest and into the lush southeast, many stormwater management and water quality protection-related lessons are being learned. Many designers and contractor cut their teeth in flat, arid environments. The southeastern US is neither flat nor is it dry. With annual rainfall reaching up to 60 inches per year in some areas and terrain so steep its sometimes difficult to walk across, solar facility constructors are not always prepared for the challenge.
Investors, understanding construction and operational costs of the past (in flat, arid areas) sometimes expect that the numbers should work out in the south also. After all, the sun shines bright there also, right? This “market expectation” has driven some decision-makers on recent projects to cut corners in areas that make stormwater professionals in the southeast cringe. Some are being asked to step in to help clean up messes made by others who may not have fully understood what clearing a thousand acres in the south might look like.
Presenter Barry Fagan, PE/PLS, ENV SP, CPESC, CPMSM, CESSWI, is one of those clean-up guys. He is currently experiencing first-hand the trials of remote owners and non-local contractors as they try to protect the beautiful and plentiful waters of the southeast US.
This presentation will describe region-specific challenges associated with utility-scale solar facility construction in the southeast United States. Several specific examples of regulatory and operational issues related to the mismanagement of construction and post-construction stormwater management will be discussed. Lessons learned and best practices for application in the solar setting will also be provided.
While this presentation will be specifically oriented to the southeast United States, resources will e provided from states outside of the southeast US, along with practices that are applicable at any solar or other construction site where large disturbances are necessary.
It is the hope of the presenter that this discussion will bring awareness of the unique challenges of solar facility construction in the southeastern US to stormwater professionals within and outside of the region.