What Makes a Good Solar Site?

Project Summary ES1223

 As Community Solar continues to grow throughout the U.S., more and more suitable land parcels need to be identified for development. So what makes a good solar site?


Key factors include:

  • open, relatively flat piece of land

  • few trees

  • no streams or wetlands

  • free from habitat, biodiversity or other preservation issues

  • close to 3-phase power

  • a landowner that is willing to sell or lease their land for a 20 year commitment to solar

Many parcels look good on the surface. You drive by and see a nice, open field with few trees to shade the solar panels. But a closer look can reveal ‘fatal flaws’ that make the land much more difficult to develop. Landforms, Environment, Topography and Access to Power all play a major role in qualifying a good solar site.

Landforms include streams, wetlands and vernal pools. State mandated buffers must be factored in, typically 100’ for wetlands and 200’ for streams. An “A” parcel will not have any landforms present to delay permitting.

Environmental layers include rare habitat, open space or agricultural preservation, FEMA flood zones and biodiversity restrictions, among others. That nice, open field may very well be protected by an Agriculture District or a State Biodiversity/Critical Habitat classification. Obtaining a special permit or variance to build a community solar garden on this type of parcel would be a time consuming task at best and at worst, may never be approved.

Topography, or elevation contours, is another key element in analyzing property for solar development. Slope above 10% is not desirable for most solar fields. There are some areas of the country where a slope of up to 20% is tolerable. The added grading expenses associated with this issue make the property less desirable and can eliminate it from consideration all together.

Access to 3-phase power is also an essential factor in qualifying a solar site. Many open fields that look good on the surface are located in very rural areas with no 3-phase power nearby. An ideal property is no more than a quarter mile away from 3-phase poles and feeders. A Utility pre-application confirming DG capacity on the lines is also required to determine if interconnection will be possible. If the lines are at capacity, expensive upgrades will be required reducing the viability of the project.

So, you found the perfect “A” parcel with no ‘fatal flaws’ to delay the permitting and interconnection stage and it appears it can get quickly into development. But is the property owner even interested in leasing their land to you? The last piece of the puzzle is in place when the owner has been contacted and a Letter of Intent and Lease has been secured to begin developing the parcel for solar.

Many companies are working to develop great solar sites. Using this complete set of fatal flaw criteria to qualify sites will enable the industry to get it done quicker, better, faster. Visit www.solarsmartllc.com for more information on fully vetted sites available in Massachusetts, New York and Maryland.