New York: Eight Ways to Tell if Your Site is Right for Solar

Thanks to remote net metering (RNM), New Yorkers are able to reap the energy saving benefits of solar even if they aren’t able to install it on their property. RNM allows solar arrays to be installed on a different site from where the energy will be used. The offtakers—such as a company, homeowner or public entity—then receives energy credits from the system on their utility bill, offsetting their utility energy costs with credits from solar generation. While this is the most obvious benefit, RNM also brings value to landowners by enabling them to lease under-utilized land for solar development.

As the leading developer of commercial solar in NY, our project developers have reviewed hundreds of sites to see if solar is feasible. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to give landowners the bad news that their site is not ideal for solar, usually because it’s too expensive to install due to site conditions. Below is a list of characteristics that we consider when evaluating whether a property is right for solar, some of which can be easily identified and evaluated by the landowner. The more ideal the property, the higher the lease payment the property owner will receive.

1. Located near a large town or city

If your land is near a large town or city, there’s a good chance energy produced on it can be utilized locally, which means the developer won’t need to pay for significant utility upgrades. Being near a substation is also an ideal characteristic. Multiple projects can be built around a larger substation and in the event substation upgrades are needed, the additional cost can be defrayed by spreading it across several projects.

2. At least five acres of usable land

A rule of thumb is that five acres are needed to build a one megawatt system. However, depending on other site characteristics, more space may be needed to account for access, fencing, frontage etc. Large arrays or multiple systems in one area could cover a 50 acres or more.

3. Clear of vegetation

Cost-effective sites are generally clear of trees, scrub, shrubs and/or vegetation that would impede installing racking and other equipment. Vegetation can be removed if necessary, but it adds cost to the project.

4. Wetlands, wet areas or streams that don’t break up the parcel

The best economics result from arrays that are built as large units. Agriculture fields can be excellent candidates for solar because they are large open spaces often free of wetlands, wet areas, streams and other impediments that may necessitate irregular array footprints or require the system be broken into multiple smaller systems. Environmental protection regulations restrict us from building within certain wetlands and near surface water bodies like streams, which is why Borrego uses databases or on-site biologists to confirm the presence of wetlands before signing a lease. If the site is large enough and if the layout makes sense from an economic standpoint, systems can be built around wetlands and water bodies. Sometimes building in wet areas is feasible, however it could add cost to the project during the construction stage if the ground is, or becomes, saturated. Wet areas can be seasonal, making landowner insight into these types of areas essential.

5. Ground slope

Ideally, the ground slope should be less than 15 degrees. A south facing slope is best (but not essential) given that the panels will be exposed to the most sun at this orientation. Terrain facing east, north or west can require increasing the spacing between rows of modules in order to mitigate shadows that reduce system production.

6. Land near a public road is better

This a “nice to have” characteristic. Locating the array near the public access road and utility distribution lines will reduce the civil and interconnection runs needed for site access and to interconnect the array.

7. Interconnection requirements

Solar arrays need to be interconnected to feeders or circuits with a three-phase system for delivering power. It can be difficult for a landowner to know what kind of utility system is near the site—if you see three wires passing by your property, it’s a good sign. To confirm whether the needed utility infrastructure exists, landowners often provide photographs of any utility equipment close to the available land. Ultimately, determining the requirements and cost to interconnect a solar array to the distribution grid is accomplished through submission of an interconnection application. Project financial viability is dependent upon keeping interconnection and potential upgrade costs low.

8. Floodplains

If your land is located in a floodplain, it does not rule out building solar there. The Army Corp of Engineers has determined the 100- and 500-year flood stage levels for the majority of rivers in New York, which are used to determine the necessary elevation level of the solar equipment to avoid impact from potential floodwaters and debris. Racking systems must be designed to support the modules well above flood stage and be strong enough to withstand flood impacts. Fencing may also need to be reinforced. These mitigation measures add to the ultimate system cost.

This is a list of the basic site characteristics to consider when evaluating if a NY property is right for solar.  Other factors, such as the jurisdiction having authority having a solar bylaw or if solar is an allowed use of your parcel, also factor into the quality of the site for solar. After reviewing this list, if you believe your site has solar potential, please contact us to schedule a feasibility study.

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