Platteview Solar Project Website: www.communityenergyinc.com/platteview
WHY SAUNDERS COUNTY
1. How did you decide to build in Saunders County?
In anticipation of OPPD’s Request for Proposals for solar energy generation, we studied multiple points on their system for feasibility of connecting a solar project. Our choice of location is based on a list of critical factors, including, but not limited to, topography, wetlands, floodplain, proximity to electric demand (which reduces electric transmission costs), access to electric transmission capacity, environmental considerations, and interest from landowners.
We extensively researched four locations and conducted outreach to landowners via mail and this location in Saunders County emerged as best suited to meet the needs of OPPD from a cost and viability perspective. As seen in the image below, Community Energy researched several areas on the east side of Nebraska inside OPPD territory before choosing Saunders County as the best location.
Community Energy is working with interested landowners in the community who responded to Community Energy-initiated outreach. These landowners are voluntarily choosing to participate in this project as an exercise of their personal property rights, and to diversify their assets, taking some of the volatility out of fluctuating commodity markets and allowing them to retain ownership of their family farms for future generations.
1. How will the taxes be collected and who will receive what?
Nebraska assesses a nameplate capacity tax, or excise tax, on solar projects at a rate of $3,518/per megawatt of nameplate capacity regardless of what the facility actually generates. This money is collected by that State and 100% of the dollars are disbursed back to Saunders County. Saunders County will directly collect additional real property taxes for components of the project such as roads, fences, inverter pads and leasehold values. Both the excise tax and additional real property tax will be paid according to Saunders County’s division of property taxing entities. Over the anticipated 30-year life of this project, this means over $9.5 million in tax revenue to the County, and its taxing entities, i.e., Yutan Schools. The project company will pay for its use of the roads and there is no material burden on infrastructure, schools, and emergency services, which means the tax revenues are net to the County (not offset by costs of services).
Because solar panels do not go to school and the project company pays its use of the roads, there is no material burden on infrastructure, schools, and emergency services and these tax revenues are net to the County (not offset by costs of services).
The money collected by the state would be sent to the County Treasurer each year to be distributed according to the current mill levy rates for the different taxing entities. For example, in Marble Township, it would look like the chart below:
2. Will this use affect the value of adjacent ag lands, making their taxes go up?
No. Nebraska law prohibits the assessor from changing the valuation of adjacent agricultural land due to the presence or proximity of the project.
1. Will any local jobs be available during and after construction?
Our construction teams, while usually global companies with years of experience building these types of project around the world, are open to hiring qualified local workers. Community Energy has a reputation in the industry of working with local chambers, economic development organizations and local trade schools and community colleges to source local talent. Upon getting our permit, we will host business forums to connect with local businesses and suppliers such as hardware, excavators, pump drillers, restaurants, landscaping, etc., to inform the community of what opportunities may be available.
2. How many jobs will be created during construction?
Based on our experience and using the US Department of Energy JEDI economic model, approximately 150 construction related jobs will be available during construction.
3. How many permanent jobs will be created for the operation and maintenance of the project?
It is expected that 2-3 full time jobs will be created to operate and maintain the project.
1. Why is solar better than traditional forms of fossil fuel?
Solar power is naturally renewable energy. It does not require that we dig it out of the ground, transport it long distances or otherwise put emissions into the air to collect it. Solar panels produce power when it is needed most (during the day), when power is in highest demand, and generally costs the most.
The cost of solar is now competitive with other traditional forms of energy production but without the negative impact of emissions. Constructing the generation facility near electricity demand, as in this case, also reduces or avoids transmission and congestion costs, which at times can approach the actual cost of generating the energy itself.
2. Doesn’t solar take good agricultural ground out of production?
Not in a meaningful way. Saunders County is 486,400 acres of ground. The proposed project would impact approximately 500 acres.
Farm ground used for solar projects does not necessarily mean the end of agricultural use on the land. It will be different than traditional crops, but a robust pollinator program can benefit not only the project properties, but cropland, orchards, residential gardens, trees and other landscaping within 30 miles of the project site. Additionally, the traditional agricultural nature of the property is not permanently lost. The benefits of restorative vegetation on nitrogen and CO2 depleted land improves agricultural land for the future. Solar projects are a long term, but temporary, use of agricultural land that allows landowners to diversify their assets, creating financial stability and allowing agricultural land to remain in families for future generations.
3. Is this still farmable land based on how the equipment will be set-up?
The roughly 500 acres that are being leased for this solar project will be covered 30% by solar panels and equipment, due to the spacing requirements needed between panels for them to operate most efficiently. We use industry leading design technology to design the solar panel layouts most optimally to ensure we use the least amount of land. The land inside the leased area (that will host the solar panels) will be fenced and will not be farmable land. We intend to use a restorative seed mix on the land under and around the panels to ensure the soil content is maintained and enriched.
Upon decommissioning, the land can be returned to farming use. The Platteview Solar project will be low-impact, with minimal disturbance to the land and community. The posts (and all other project infrastructure) are removed at the end of project life leaving no remnants of the racking structure or other project components in the soil so the site can easily be returned to open land.
4. Why does this solar project involve 500 acres?
Single-axis tracking solar projects, like Platteview, typically require 6-10 acres per 1 MW of solar. We have designed Platteview with industry-leading efficiency to ensure we use the least amount of land necessary.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
1. What are the health concerns involving this project that could impact local residents and nearby landowners?
There are no known health or safety concerns to the landowners or local residents from this solar project. There are no hazardous materials in modern solar crystalline photovoltaic panels and nearly 99% of the materials used in solar panels are common recyclable materials. Modern panels pass the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) TCLP test (Toxicity Characteristics Leach Procedure). The panels are the same as those found on residential rooftops. They are solid state, much like a semi-conductor, that neither contain nor produce any liquids or gases. The solar project produces no air pollution and is odorless, quiet, and safe. The fact that the solar project retains the existing land and produces no air pollution means there are many positive health benefits to solar projects, instead of a different electric generating facility or industrial development which permanently remove the land from current and future use and eliminate local plant and animal species habitats, etc.
Platteview Solar will safely generate clean electricity. If a panel is damaged, there is nothing to spill onto the ground. There are now thousands of ground mounted solar projects across the U.S., with no track record of any release of hazardous materials from those panels.
2. Will the fence be electrified?
No, the security fence will not be electrified.
3. Who will have access to the site and how will security be managed?
Only authorized personnel will have access to the site. Emergency key boxes will be located at the entrances to allow emergency personnel access. The site will be monitored by security cameras and coordinate with local law enforcement.
4. How much maintenance activity will there be after the project goes in-service?
Solar projects require minimal maintenance during their lifetime. Routine maintenance typically sees 3-6 trips per year for ground cover maintenance and array repairs and maintenance needs.
1. What is the Fire plan for these types of projects?
The project will meet state mandated fire codes.
2. Will the local Fire Department be adequately trained to respond to a fire emergency inside the project area?
Yes. The project will provide training to local EMS staff to respond to potential emergencies. The project will also provide funding to the local Fire Department through increased taxes.
COUNTY APPROVAL PROCESS
1. What is the County approval process?
The Saunders County Zoning Regulations require approval of a Conditional Use Permit for Commercial Solar Conversion Systems (CSCS) proposed in the Agriculture or Transitional Agriculture Zone Districts. The Conditional Use Permit is heard by the Planning Commission at a noticed public hearing. The decision of the Planning Commission is a recommendation of approval, approval with conditions or denial to the Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors will also consider the application, and the Planning Commission’s recommendation, at a noticed public hearing. The County Board’s decision is final and is influenced by, but ultimately independent of, the Planning Commission’s decision. This is a similar process to neighboring counties in Nebraska.
2. Once this is approved, can you just build more solar arrays or does the County and the public get to participate?
The approval of the solar project will be specific to this project proposal. The project cannot be expanded, moved or materially altered without approval of a new or amended Conditional Use Permit, which would follow the process outlined above.
1. How will this impact the cemetery?
Platteview Solar is being built on private property that surrounds the Hollst-Lawn Cemetery on three sides. Setbacks of 500 feet between cemetery property line and project fence line will be created as part of the project design. This setback exceeds the County Zoning Regulations required setback of 100 feet. The project will not have any physical impact on the cemetery property. However, Platteview Solar is sensitive to the viewshed of the project from the cemetery grounds and commits to working with the Cemetery Board to identify a set of buffers that will adequately, and sensitively screen the cemetery visitors from direct sight of the project.
2. What screening will be used for the cemetery (type of trees, double row, offset?)
Platteview Solar will provide a landscape buffer between the cemetery property and the project boundary on the west, north and east sides of the cemetery property. The type of screen, and specific landscape materials will be developed in conjunction with the Cemetery Board in a collaborative effort.
3. What if the cemetery wants/needs to expand during the project lifespan?
The Cemetery Board does not currently own the property surrounding the existing cemetery. The enhanced 500’ setback being provided between the cemetery property line and the project boundary would provide ample opportunity for the Cemetery Board to approach the property owners should expansion be desired.
4. How will adjacent homes be screened?
Platteview Solar will work with individual property owners whose viewsheds will be impacted by the project.
5. What are the setback requirements?
The Saunders County Zoning Regulations requires the solar project to meet or exceed the required setbacks for the zone district in which it is located. In this case, the properties in the project area are zoned either A-1 (Agriculture) or TA-1 (Transitional Agriculture). The minimum setbacks for these zoning districts are: Front: 100’ (measured from the centerline of the road), Side: 20’ and Rear: 20’. The project is utilizing setbacks of a minimum of 500 feet from the closest wall of any adjacent residential use.
DESIGN AND SITE OPERATIONS
1. Can solar panels withstand hazardous weather such as thunderstorms, high winds, and hail?
Yes. Solar facility components are tested in many different weather conditions to ensure they are durable enough to withstand severe weather, including high winds and hail. The durable glass cover that protects the interior of the solar panel is designed to withstand a significant impact from hail. If a catastrophic hailstorm does occur, the panels act similarly to a car windshield; they are designed to spider and stay intact rather than shatter. Solar panels are completely waterproof and are built to last for decades outside and through countless showers and storms. Solar panel technology has existed since 1954 and has continued to improve over time. As for wind, solar panel support structures are designed to various wind load ratings and the implementation of tracking systems with a “stow” feature allow panels to be positioned for the least impact from high winds.
2. Can these types of projects withstand tornados?
Yes. The installation is engineered to withstand wind speeds of up to 105mph. As with any structure (house, barn or pivot), if the path of the tornado goes straight through the facility, damage could happen and restoration efforts would be completed through insurance.
3. Will there by lights on all night?
Nighttime lights are not required and not anticipated as part of the project.
4. Will someone on the edge of the project (or across the street) be able to hear noise from the trackers or inverters?
Solar projects are quiet neighbors. The noisiest components of a solar farm are the Inverters, which are located toward the center of the panel arrays and not the edges near the project boundaries. Within 10-15 feet of the inverter, decibel levels are in the range of 45-65 dBA. For comparison, a normal conversation is approximately 60 dBA. Since solar panels do not produce energy at night, inverters make no noise in the evening.
5. Will the design of the project, and the fencing surrounding it, create a snowdrift issue?
The design of the project, and the fencing style being used to enclose the project will not cause snow drifts that impede adjacent roads in adverse snow events.
6. How long will construction last?
Construction is anticipated to last 9-12 months. During that time, there will be up to 150 personnel in the area, many of whom will eat, buy gas and use other services in the Yutan area.
1. Will construction traffic damage local roads?
Construction traffic will include semi-trailers of equipment and heavy machinery needed to install the panel support systems. The project will be responsible for maintaining and repairing the roads if there is any damage.
2. Who will be responsible for fixing roads damaged during construction?
Platteview Solar will be responsible for the repair of damaged roads to County Highway Department specifications both during and after construction is complete.
3. How will the developer be held accountable for fixing damaged roads after construction?
Platteview Solar is committed to being a good neighbor and community member. We will apply for all necessary right-of-way and driveway permits per County requirements. Additionally, we will enter into a Road Use Agreement as part of our Conditional Use Permit process that will require the project to provide surety bonding against road damage during construction.
4. Will the site plan take intersection site distance into account?
Yes, the project will comply with county safety regulations. The Zoning Regulations require setbacks from County roads for this purpose, and the project with comply with those setbacks.
1. How much water does a solar project use?
During construction, the project will use an amount of water approximately equivalent to the annual use of one average single-family home per day, primarily to control dust. During operation, the project will use an amount of water per year approximately equivalent to the average single-family home.
2. Will adjacent wells be impacted by project use of water?
DRAINAGE AND EROSION CONTROL
1. How will the development of panels on the property affect drainage off-site?
The solar arrays will largely be placed within cultivated croplands, which will be converted to perennial grassland for the life of the Project. The design intent is to maintain existing drainage patterns throughout the site both during and after construction. It is anticipated the panels will act as pervious surfaces – sheet flowing to the pervious groundcover beneath. Converting tilled cropland to perennial grassland reduces the runoff curve number, promotes infiltration and decreases the peak discharge. Perennial cover will also eliminate exposed soil surfaces subject to erosion and transport into ditches and drainageways. These changes, along with any onsite detention and treatment will reduce off-site drainage compared to the current conditions. This understanding is further reinforced by a report in the Journal of Hydrologic Engineering titled “Hydrologic Response of Solar Farms” dated May 2013. The conclusion of this report after various testing procedures were carried out is that the addition of solar panels over a grassy field has very little effect on the volume of runoff, the peak discharge, and the time to peak. In its post-construction, stabilized state, the time of concentration and velocity of flow is expected to improve due to the change in land cover for this project. This accounts for all anticipated impervious area (access roads, equipment pads, etc.). Development of solar arrays will be conducted in accordance with authorization under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act and will include implementation of a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan.
2. Will downstream drainage get worse after the project is complete?
The groundcover measures described above regarding changes to drainage onsite will also serve to reduce the potential for downstream changes to drainage. Establishment of perennial cover at the Project will also eliminate exposed soil surfaces subject to erosion and transport into ditches and drainageways. The Project will be constructed and operated in accordance with federal (e.g., Clean Water Act, Section 402), state (e.g., Clean Water Act, Section 401 [delegated to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy] and Title 117 – Nebraska Surface Water Quality Standards), and local permit requirements (described in the Saunders County Zoning Regulations).
1. What type of fencing is proposed and what will it look like?
Platteview Solar is working with OPPD to make sure the fencing is as unobtrusive as possible while providing the security commensurate with an electrical generating facility. Current fencing proposed is 7-8 foot chain link which meets the Saunders County solar ordinance requirements and is comparable to the fencing at OPPD’s interconnection substation.
2. Why do you need fencing?
Fencing is required to provide security to the solar facility.
1. What is the lifespan of these types of projects?
Solar PV projects typically have a useful lifespan of approximately 30-35 years.
2. What happens to all the equipment at the end of the project?
At the end of the project’s life, the equipment, including underground cabling, will be removed from the property and the property returned to its original state.
3. Whose responsibility is it to remove the equipment?
Platteview Solar will be responsible for the decommissioning of the project, removal of the equipment and restoration of the ground.
4. How is the removal guaranteed?
The County, as part of the Conditional Use Permit, will require the submittal and approval of a Decommissioning Plan, which will include a requirement to post a bond or other financial security with the County so that the County can fund decommissioning and disposal should the project company not fulfill that obligation.
5. Where is the decommission plan filed?
The Decommissioning Plan will be kept on file in the Saunders County Zoning Office.
1. What are the different types of solar panels?
There are three major types of solar panels used today; monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film. The Platteview Solar project is planning to use crystalline solar panels.
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are made from silicon but vary in the composition of the silicon itself. Monocrystalline solar cells are cut from a single, pure crystal of silicon. Monocrystalline solar cells often appear black because of how light interacts with the pure silicon crystal. Alternatively, polycrystalline solar cells are composed of fragments of silicon crystals that are melted together in a mold before being cut into wafers. Polycrystalline solar cells usually have a bluish hue to them due to the light reflecting off the silicon fragments in the cell in a different way than it reflects off a pure monocrystalline silicon wafer.
Thin Film panels.
Unlike monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, thin-film panels are made from a variety of photovoltaic materials which are deposited or painted on a substrate such as plastic or glass. Thin-film solar panels can come in both blue and black hues, depending on their composition.
2. What are Bifacial Solar Panels?
Bifacial solar panels can capture sunlight from both the front and back of the panel, thus producing more electricity than comparably sized, traditional solar panels. Most bifacial solar panels have a transparent glass or plastic back sheet so that sunlight can travel through the panel, reflect off the ground surface, and back upwards towards the solar cells on the back of the panel.
3. What are the solar panels made of?
The amount of each material differs by panel size and manufacturer but crystalline panels are mainly comprised of glass, polymers, aluminum, and silicon, in addition to very small amounts of copper, silver, and tin. Crystalline solar cells are made of silicon, which is the main component in natural beach sand. Silicon is abundantly available, making it the second most available element on Earth. The country of origin and cost of the materials varies but modern crystalline solar panels are made from common materials found around the world. Platteview Solar will be using crystalline solar panels in its project.
4. How are crystalline solar panels made?
Crystalline solar cells are made of silicon, which is the main component in natural beach sand. Silicon is abundantly available, making it the second most available element on Earth. Silicon is formed into blocks that are treated with boron and phosphorus to enable the photovoltaic effect and then cut to form individual solar cells. To make the cells functional, a silver paste is printed on the surface to help collect and carry electrons. The amount of silver used per panel varies by size, but is typically less than 25 grams per panel. Solar panels are made up of numerous solar cells which are normally connected with tin-coated copper wires. The cells are encased in a thin layer of glass on the front side and typically, a polymer-based material on the back. The frame that holds everything together is normally made out of aluminum.
5. Where are solar panels made?
Solar panels are manufactured all over the world. The majority of panels come from the United States, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China.
6. Is there a danger of contamination from water running off the solar panels and leaching into the ground? Any impact on soil?
We are not aware of any studies showing danger of contamination from the panels or other equipment used in solar projects or from water running off the panels and leaching into the ground.
7. What happens to the glass when a panel is damaged due to hail or other severe weather?
The solar panel is a self-contained unit that is tightly sealed and has been designed to withstand high wind speeds and severe weather. The glass on the PV panels is tempered and coated, with the result that it behaves similarly to auto safety glass when impacted sufficiently. In the event of severe weather sufficient to damage the panels (e.g., exceptionally large hail), the glass would break into many very small pieces but is designed to remain held together. Broken panels can be easily exchanged for new panels.
8. Do solar panels cause glare?
Solar panels are designed to capture light, not reflect it. Solar panels actually cause less glare than standard home window glass and research has shown that they reflect less light than snow, white concrete, and energy-efficient white rooftops. Solar modules are coated with anti-reflective materials that maximize light absorption. Moreover, the panel glass is often stippled, or textured with tiny indentations, to lessen the amount of sunlight that is reflected and increase light scattering inside the cell.
9. Do solar panels pose a high fire risk?
Solar systems must comply with commercial building and fire codes, like those that govern the construction of commercial buildings and homes.
10. Do solar panels produce energy on cloudy days?
Yes. Solar panels will still generate power even on cloudy days, but at a slight reduction in output. On days with variable clouds, modern solar facility design compensates for some of the losses due to passing clouds. Many solar facilities add extra panels and smart inverters, which help lessen the effects of passing clouds by replacing lost generation with generation from other areas of the array.
11. Are there above-ground electric lines?
No. The electric lines necessary to connect the arrays to the project substation will be buried underground.
1. Will my property value decrease because I live next to a solar farm?
Several independent studies have been conducted to determine if renewable energy projects, specifically solar farms, have a negative impact on adjacent property value after commercialization. These studies have determined that a solar farm has no impact, positive or negative, on surrounding property values over time. Community Energy has developed over 100 similar projects across the country over the past 20 years and never had a legal claim of loss of value by an adjacent property owner.
2. Will this stop urban growth and development from Omaha (Saunders County Comprehensive Plan)?
No one project is going to stop urban growth from encroaching toward Saunders County. Saunders County has adopted a robust and well thought out comprehensive plan that will guide the County decision-making regarding sound land use choices that will allow the community to grow in a manner that fits its needs and supports its requirements. The Saunders County Comprehensive Plan does not anticipate residential or commercial development in the project area during the project’s anticipated lifespan. Further, the long-term and temporary nature of this project will prevent other types of development on these particular parcels until the end of the project’s life.
1. What kind of insurance do these projects carry to protect adjacent landowners from unintentional damage from solar project?
Platteview Solar will carry and maintain industry standard insurance policies throughout the life of the project. Unfortunately, extreme weather conditions, including tornados, are not uncommon in Saunders County. Just like your neighbor’s house, barn, and ancillary personal property or an adjacent business, Platteview Solar is held to and will comply with local, state and federal building codes. Saunders County adheres to the 2003 IBC and IRC as the key building code criteria, and Platteview Solar and must be designed, at a minimum, to accommodate wind speeds of 105mph. Platteview Solar will be held to the same standards as any other building or piece of electrical infrastructure that is constructed in Saunders County. Platteview Solar’s Operations & Maintenance team will continuously monitor the weather and the project for operational variations. Our teams will be onsite following extreme events to assess any damage.