Solar Farm Site Selection

I was putting this list together for a presentation that I’m giving next week, and I thought I would post it here too.  These factors are true for any technology, but they’re part of the reason I like our technology – high efficiency modules on sun trackers really make many of these issues more manageable.

Solar Farm

Solar Farm

Don’t take this all to mean that there aren’t any sites out there for solar farm development – there are thousands of sites available – these considerations really just emphasize the fact that even if you’re out in the desert, it’s a mistake to treat land as essentially free.  This just stresses the need for efficient use of land for solar farms.

Below are some of the issues that a solar farm developer needs to consider when selecting a site.

Quality of terrain
Sloped land, excessively rocky or sandy terrain, uneven land etc can all significantly add to the cost of installing a solar farm.

Local weathering factors
Desert conditions often coincide with excessive dust fall, flooding and flash flooding, high erosion etc, and these can limit the viability of a site and in many cases can make a site non-viable.

Proximity to High Transmission Capacity Lines
One of the biggest hidden costs of a solar farm is the distance required to connect a system to high voltage lines capable of carrying the excess production.  The costs of even a few extra kilometres can completely destroy the profitability of a solar farm.

Local Transmission Capacity
Worse, in many places, power grids are not able to handle the excess capacity that a solar farm would introduce.  This has been a persistent problem in California, Spain, Ontario and the Middle East, and has led to hundreds of projects being cancelled or delayed indefinitely.

Conservation and Environmental Impact Issues
Large tracts of undeveloped land too often coincide with sensitive or protected areas or protected species.  Often the presence of a single protected species of plant or animal can halt or completely alter the development plans for a solar farm, and for example in California, the evidence of single endangered burrowing owl halted the development of a solar farm project worth hundreds of millions.  Thin films are especially bad as they really require the land to be completely covered to get a useful watts/acre ratio.

Agricultural Concerns
Most government agencies responsible for agriculture do not want to see farmers paving over their fields with solar panels.  Especially in Canada and Southern Europe, available land near electrical demand centres is usually agricultural land – this will turn into a bigger and bigger issue as time goes on.

Local Regulations and Ownership
It is surprising the number of issues that can arise, even in a friendly regulatory framework.  Objections from the military over concerns with reflections interfering with pilot’s vision or ground construction causing problems with radar installations, construction permits and agricultural land limits on depth of holes allowed on a site are examples of regulations that can effect a site.  This has been a consistent issue with site selection for solar farms everywhere.  Further, although this depends on local factors, land ownership of the solar farm land itself, or the right of way required for construction access and/or connection to high voltage transmission can severely complicate factors, especially when previously “worthless” land is suddenly perceived as valuable.

Land Prices Rise Quickly
Generally, solar farm developments tend to happen regionally, where several projects appear in quick succession.  The surprising limits to viable sites discussed above, combined with the high costs of developing solar farms tends to lead to higher land prices, higher property taxes and in worst cases, land speculation.

Smaller Solar Farms Save other Costs
Panel and land costs are not the only costs to consider – installation costs, cabling and O&M are all less costly in smaller solar farms.  As the scale gets bigger, this becomes more significant.

That’s a sample, trust me – talk to a solar farm developer and they’ll laugh at how oversimplified this list is.  That said, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of solar farms in the works all over the world.  Efficiency matters.  That’s all I’m saying.

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60 responses to “Solar Farm Site Selection

  1. pascal rechatin

    Interesting comments, I fully agree with you on small solar farms potential in particular in Europe where I am in the process of installing a 250 Kw one
    I always thought however that financially bigger is always better for solar farms. Can you elaborate a bit on what you would do to make a small solar farm more economically viable ( technology? landscaping?….)

    Thanks

  2. You where right that bigger is always better – the cost/scale always favours larger installations up to a certain point. My thoughts are that truly lower cost solutions will make small and medium size installations more viable, and more efficient use of land allows for more watts/hectare.

    Where is the 250 kW farm you’re deploying?

  3. Useful information. i am in new zealand, we have very beautiful sunshine in the summer with little rain but wet and windy winter. do you think it is still viable for me to build my own solar system. i mean a big one that can power not just the lights? coz i think the system might not generate a lot of power in winter as the sun is always behind the cloud. thanks a lot in advance!

  4. Hi Alen. If you read this, what you need to look for is your local “insolation” data. (Spell checkers always want to correct that to insulation. It’s not a mispelling.)

    Insolation refers to the amount of sun an area receives, and most government national resource departments track it. I think this is fodder for a post on it’s own, and I’ll try to get to it this week.

  5. Hi, I have a client who is interested in erecting a solar farm. He is in Northern California. Do you know of a good book or resource that addresses the regulations, costs, building tips, etc. a solar farm? Thank you for your help!

  6. A book – I’m not certain that such a book exists and highly doubt that it will. The issues to consider have been highly dynamic, especially over the last two to three years, and anyone who really has enough knowledge to put it together could make more money developing solar farms and hiring out his expertise. I’d be skeptical of any book claiming to have even an overview of the information you’re looking for.

    This ties into the commenter above, and merits it’s own blog post, which I’ll try to do today or tomorrow.

  7. Have you experienced municipality push back for small farms? Do you know where I can get examples of neighborhood Covenents & Restrictions for farm/residential combination projects. I’m looking at putting in about $11,000,000 into solar panels on a Farm/Homes/ and Equestrian project in North Carolina. I don’t know your product but would like to compare to what I’ve been proposed.

  8. Hi Dale, feel free to email me:

    nicolas [at] <>[dot]com.

    Sorry for the messed up format. I have heard stories of municipal push back, and I’ve heard of people over coming it or addressing concerns. We might not be a good fit for your project, but I’m happy to talk to you.

  9. Pingback: Developing a Solar Farm Questions « The Unofficial Morgansolar Weblog

  10. Does anyone out in solar land know of any per acre lease rates for solar farms. Any help would be most appreciated.

  11. jeremy harper

    I am part owner of some farm land near Tracy and Stockton California. Do you forsee solar farms going in to these places in the future?

  12. I am getting different answers as to incentives and rebates available to someone considering solar farming ? Do you know what if anything they are eligible for in California.

  13. Hi, I am trying to put a feasibility paper forward on Solar For CA. Do you have any gauge on the lease price for land.? I think the people who are offering big lease dollars might just be putting it out here as there are no pay in tarrif prices quoted. If indeed they are even available.
    Appreciate it. Regards, John

  14. I would like to build a 40k small farm on my own property , what do you think this would cost

  15. I would like to build a 40k small farm on my own land one day ,how much do you think this will cost me?

    • There is a 30% federal tax credit on the gross cost, and some areas offer as much as a 50% rebate. OUr congregation installed a 30kw system that cost 160K gross, but wound up costing 89K. in 25 years, at current energy rates increase , it will save us 900K.

  16. Dwayne – Depends on the technology and time line. Right now, assuming you’re in North America, you’re looking at $150,000 to $250,000 depending on solar technology you used, siting conditions and other factors. Getting to the lower end of that range is reasonable if it’s a good unshaded site, flat land and straight forward construction issues. Our panels aren’t going to be on the market for a while yet, but we’re looking to shave a good chunk of that price off when they are. Prices in general are volatile but getting lower in general.

  17. John Meikle – Sorry, no idea.

  18. Jeremy Harper – I would have to look at a map, but if they’re in the red or orange areas of the map I’m linking to below, probably.

    http://morgansolar.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/us_csp_annual_may2004.jpg

  19. We have an 11 acre ranch of flat pasture land surrounded by walnut orchards on the outskirts of Modesto CA. close to La Grange. Do you think we have enough land, and how would we get started?

  20. I have 25 acres is sunny southern Arizona that is unshaded and flat. What is the general cost for a small solar farm and/or how many panels can be installed? How much energy can be produced?

    • Please send your request to this e-mail, I will be able to give you all information you need to develop a solar farm in that area.

    • Matt,

      We’re a company that specializes in land lease/power puchase agreements through SRP and other Arizona utilities companies. We pay for any and all costs associated with the system from start to finish. We design and install the system and maintain it based on a 20 years lease agreement.

      On 25 acres, we would be able to build a system that would generate between 14 and 17 megawatts. If you have any questions at all please dont hesitate to email me back at cory.brian@hotmail.com

      Thanks for your time,

      Cory Brian

  21. We are getting a solar farm built north of Rochester Minnesota on top of a old landfill. How are these panels protected from snow and potential impact damage. I realize they may be installed at an angle deflecting snow which may in itself just be enough. I am also assuming they rotate and tilt to track the sun, which may also be the total (90 degrees) solution to snow accumulation.

    • Hi james… I am reading up on small solar farms and came across your questions. I want to know if you built yours. I am thinking of buying some land, 40 acres up on the iron range of minnesota and putting up a farm. How much of a pain was it? Roughly what was the cost? Maybe I could visit and see your farm before I do anything? Any and all info would be nice.
      email me at: magpiepixie@gmail.com
      –Cari

  22. Hello, I enjoyed your article.
    I am helping an associate in Dakar, Senegal to market solar power systems to the Ministry of Energy. To successfully convince these guys, he needs a study on a 14 to 21 KWH solar park. They are sub-Saharan.
    Can you give me any direction on how to accomplish this study? ANY help will be greatly appreciated.

  23. Would like to know if you would be interested in Consulting on this project on our website. I can be reached at this email or my cell phone at 772 240 6621.

    This is a serious offer.

    Scott Ty Cobb, MBA

  24. Hi, like to follow with Doug’s question on August 15th.

    Does anyone out in solar land know of any per acre lease rates for solar farms in a good location, well drained, flat, high solar potential according to the natural resource canada data.

    thanks,

    ontariomicrofitsolar.ca

    Doug // August 15, 2009 at 11:52 pm | Reply

    Does anyone out in solar land know of any per acre lease rates for solar farms. Any help would be most appreciated.

  25. Great info. Thanks!

  26. Would like to build solar farm (or have a company built it), on 925 acres owned in Palm Spings area in aggregate area. Have grid running through site and 500 acres of level land. Who does this kind of development? Can financing be arranged with land for collateral? Zoning is Specific Plan and site was planned for energy park, technology park and mixed use with the City of Indio. Most EIR studies complete. Before continuing the development want to search for large scale energy park. Can anyone assist or recommend solar farm developers for Southern California development?

    • We will be able to assist you to develop a solar farm on your site. If you have enough paper work done, we also can arrange for finance the project. Please send your request to pacificpvco@gmail.com

    • Joseph Garies

      Rory i finance solar farm development from start to finish, any dollar amount, i can also supply the solar farm developer for your project, we lend nationwide on all size solar projects.

  27. I have 56 scres in Louisiana and want to create a solar farm.
    Need additional information.
    John
    949-481-0625

  28. I currently have well over 500 acres of south facing flat land in a very desirable eastern ontario location of which is available for sale or lease for solar farming. There is an ideal grid through the property with both transmission and distribution towers. TS station nearby, ideally located. If you are interested in further information, please contact me and I will provide you with further information. Serious inquiries only. Note that I will not divide the property; it will remain at the entirety of 500+ acres.

    • Central Ontario

      QM Ontario

      I have a client interested in developing a solar facility. They are interested in leasing property. How can I get in contact with you?

      You can call me @ 705.929.7032

    • Hi QM Ontario:
      I represent an Ontario based renewable energy project developer. Interested in your offer of land for sale/lease for solar project development, if still available. I will be grateful if you call 905-527-5598 or email rparsons@anemosenergy.com to let me know either way.
      Best regards,
      Rob Parsons
      Anemos Energy Corporation

  29. Jim Northcutt

    Do you know of any attempts at a solar farm co-operative? What I would like to find is a solar farm already started in anywhere USA, that is a successful business, but has excess land available for lease to a newcomer to try out his idea. A small lease of 1 acre and building out to perhaps 20 acres would be excellent. That way the grid connection, regulatory issues are pre-solved by the trail blazer.

  30. jeremy harper, I am in Stockton, CA. Have some ideas for solar power development. If interested, please call (209) 465-0296

  31. What should one expect to get for a land lease for a solar panel installation? How much per acre- per year is going rate?

    Thanks,
    Bob

  32. My dad has a farm just outside of High Point, NC. There is about 40-80 acres of flat unused cropland on either side of a fair-quality gravel driveway with drainage. I would like to lease this land to a solar powercompany that would be interested in installing panels (or whatever) and selling the power back to Duke Energy. Flat to gently sloping land, moderate climate. There is actually a DE Hi-Z power line adjacent/through the farm. There is limited activity at the farm and a solar panel section could coexist easily. Only about miles from High Point (pop. 70,000).

  33. Update to above:

    Email is drewomatic@gmail.com

  34. I Have about 200 acres of good flat land in new mexico i would like to lease or sale for a solar farm . The sun shines almost all the time.

  35. Pingback: Skybridge buying and leasing land for solar farm power plants | Skybridge Solar

  36. Interesting article. Im living in a tiny island city where land is scarce. I was thinking if its possible to harness the solar energy on the roofs of buildings. To further expand on this idea, the “roofscapes” can be further extended to stretch over segments of the spaces in between buildings. In this way, no virgin forest will be destroyed and the expensive land value is fully utilized for solar harvesting as well as residence. Please give your comments on this vision.

  37. Michael Bell

    I have 10 acres in Cantonment Fl, I would like to lease it to a solar power company. The land is cleard of trees, and the land is on top of hill. it gets full sun all day long. You can call me at 850-377-4539 or you can Email me.

  38. I have 161 acres flat Solar Farm land with 730 mv transmition line passing inside and is next to TESSERA/AES 709 MV SOLAR project in El CENTRO CALIFORNIA. I will lease this land for 20 years and one 10 years extention for $300,000.00 first year and annual increase of %5 there after. If you are interested Please reply via email(almamaghani@aol.com) .

  39. Joseph Garies

    To all who wish to discus financing for your solar farm no matter how big or small, we lend nationwide, we also have a development company who would be more than happy to quote a price to install a solar farm on your property.
    Joseph Garies
    Global Consulting Group
    401-426-9711
    gcg@fullchannel.net

  40. Hi all !! There s so much information on here(thank you) that I have learnt, That I now realizes just how hard its going to be to have a big solar farm, so Im thinking how about a smaller solar farm say 5 acres(start small and get bigger over time ) or would that be to small ? Can I go smaller ?
    Naturally I want to make profit as Im starting with business loan (Hopefully)
    and doing my research now to take to the bank manager.
    Any information would be truly grateful .
    Paul – England

  41. Mahesh Suddhala

    Would it be possible to purchase a 1 megawatt solar farm that is up and running? If yes please share the details with me.
    If not I would like to know how can I get started with identifying a location for solar farm, setting up the farm, qualify for a loan, buy land, get all paper work in place for loan and etc and how to sell the power.
    All your help would be greatly appreciated.
    Please feel free to e-mail me. I am also looking for a company or person who can consult with me and help me through the setup of a 1 mega watt power plant.

    Mahesh Suddhala
    Suddhala@yahoo.com

  42. I have several lands want to lease out for solar farm. somone want to offer me?www.land-garden.com for detail view with photo and youtube.

  43. If anyone has any information regarding Canada specifically Southern Alberta, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank-you,
    Shanda

  44. I have 50-60 acres available in Renfew County, Ontario.
    Class 4 land; clear pasture with clear southern exposure. Interested in leasing the land for solar development.
    DS station is located on adjacent 100 acre parcel, D6 transmission line intersects property. Ideal for solar development.
    Email jmb_properties@hotmail.com

  45. I have a 2000 acre ranch of which about 1000 acres is flat. Transmission lines run directly through the property – PG&E and also Cottonwood Power lines. It is located in Red Bluff, CA which is in Northern California. Easy road and freeway access. Mostly cleared. Very stable land. I am looking to lease it out. We have ran cattle for years, but solar power is a much more viable and stable income. If anyone is interested or knows who I could contact for information, please contact me or reply. My email is kendramoore2004@yahoo.com. Thanks all! :-)

  46. I’ m near El Dorado Hills, Ca, and I would like to install as much solar as possible on my land, but we are at least a 5 miles from larger transmission lines. If I install solar, what is the maximum kw solar power you could expect ‘normal’ transmision lines to accept? Also, does anyone know of the zoning or regulations regarding the size of solar installations/farms in this area.

  47. Very Short Brief

    Interesting read–believe a land owner should consider allowing someone wishing to install, operate, & maintain a solar generation operation, the opportunity to do so with an agreement terminating in 25 or so years. The agreement would provide payment to the land owner of say 5% of the area retail rate for electricity, thus providing assurance of realistic participation in the ‘manipulated’ power pricing game. The agreement would also require that any extensions granted would obligate the owner of the arrays to turn ownership over to the land owner at the end of the extension agreement -or- remove the arrays & return the land to its original condition. Just a thought to protect the land owner from losing out on escalating power rates.

  48. I HAVE 53.8 ACRES IN REIDSVILLE GA…I AM INTERESTED IN SELLING MY LAND FOR SOLAR FARMING..34 ACRES IS CULVATED ..mswthplan49@yahoo.com