Comprehensive Environmental Studies: Community Energy conducts a series of studies to identify sensitive features of proposed project sites. These on site environmental studies typically include: a delineation of any wetlands and streams, a search for any hazardous materials, an assessment of the cultural and historical resources, an identification of any threatened and endangered wildlife species, a geotechnical assessment, and an assessment of local floodplains. By identifying these resources at the front end, we can design our project in a way that avoids and minimizes any impacts to sensitive features on the site.
Safe and Reliable Solar Photovoltaic Technology: Most panels used on the projects we develop are modern crystalline silicon PV panels which are slightly larger versions of the panels used on home and commercial rooftops. There are no hazardous materials in modern solar photovoltaic panels – this is a touch safe technology. Crystalline solar modules are primarily composed of glass, plastic, and aluminum. They are solid state, much like a semi-conductor, and contain no liquids. This technology has been in commercial use throughout the U.S. and globally for over 20 years. Studies show they pose no risk of toxicity to public health and safety, as certified by the EPA’s Toxicity Characteristics Leach Procedure (TCLP) test.
Low Impact Construction: The construction of a solar project is low impact. Unlike housing or commercial development, a solar project does not require brick-and-mortar buildings or paved parking lots. Solar panels and racking can be installed with minimal to no grading or removal of topsoil because today’s trackers can follow the contours of the land. The “foundation” of a solar project is a steel post, driven into the ground with no concrete footing, much like a fence post. The racking system is bolted to the posts, and the solar panels are bolted to the racking system. When the project is at its end, this process is reversed to decommission the site.
A Solar Seed Mix to Strengthen the Soil: We typically plant a low-grow perennial grass mix compatible with the local ecosystem throughout the solar array providing soil and water quality improvement benefits, similar to those experienced for land enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program. Our seed mix selection is driven by native species, local knowledge and decades of experience establishing healthy ground cover under our projects.
To design the seed mix for each project, we may consult with adjacent farmers and members of the local farm bureau to ensure that the planned seed mix is compatible with their ongoing activity.
Establishing Robust Ground Cover: Establishing and maintaining a strong ground cover sod is important to our projects. Panel rows are typically spaced 25 to 30 feet apart and each post is 15 to 20 feet apart which allows a significant area of the field to remain open. The solar panels track the sun throughout the day like a young sunflower, so the ground beneath the panels will receive adequate sunlight to establish a strong sod.
Low-Impact Vegetation Management: The vegetation throughout the array must be properly managed to minimize any shading on the panels from tall grass. As part of a project’s operation and maintenance plan, the ground cover is managed through seasonal mowing. Community Energy is also testing a rotational sheep grazing program on other project sites that could influence future maintenance management processes. Weed control is managed through spot treatments with selective herbicides.
Erosion Control and Stormwater Management: Properly designed solar projects will not increase storm-water runoff outside of the project area and are properly managed within the project area. Rain falls on the solar panel and runs off the edge of the panel, where it falls off the drip line to the ground below. From there this water can infiltrate the ground or move along the ground surface under the next panel. The area beneath the panel and between the panels consists of pervious soil and well-maintained vegetation. Community Energy’s commitment to responsible design, planning, and prevention measures means strong stormwater management practices.
Native Species Supporting Local Pollinators: At many of our projects we have planted a mix of pollinator-friendly plants and native grasses to provide habitat for pollinator species. At the Elizabethtown College Solar project in Pennsylvania and North Star Solar project in Minnesota we have partnered with local bee farmers to host beehives onsite to support their local honey business.
Responsible Project Decommissioning: Decommissioning is the obligation of the Project company and the solar project will have a Decommissioning Plan with the landowners and local authorities. A Decommissioning Plan will require us to remove the equipment and restore the land at the end of the lease. In addition, the Decommissioning Plan will require us to establish and maintain resources that will pay for the cost of removal, net of any salvage value. The Plan will include a financial surety based on cost estimates for equipment removal, hauling, disposal, and taking into account salvage and resale value. Solar projects do not permanently alter soils or agricultural potential, so the land use will remain viable when the solar project is at the end of its useful life.