Solar Energy: Permitting, Planning, and Design of Solar Facility

SCS is engaged with one of the nation’s largest renewable energy generators to permit a large solar facility. Early in the planning process, SCS working with our client, developed a minimization and avoidance strategy. This strategy attempts to minimize or entirely avoid environmental impacts with careful planning throughout the project’s design and construction phase by identifying sensitive natural and cultural resources. This eco-friendly approach minimizes the need for federal and state permits through the due-diligence process.

Minimize and avoid sensitive resources is good business.

Since the SCS project team is in the first “boots-on-the-ground” phase of the project, the natural and cultural resource surveys have multiple components. The overall objective for SCS is to:

  • Accurately map environmentally or culturally sensitive areas,
  • Develop a method to present the data electronically to the client’s planning group,
  • Establish the needs for specific permits, if any,
  • Quantify the impact(s) of any permits on the scope and schedule of the project.

Generating and providing an accurate map representing sensitive areas and resources is foundational to the strategy. Identifying resources and accurately mapping them using a sub-meter GPS system saves costs and provides near real-time data quality control. Questions are embedded within the data system and electronically linked to a geospatial file. Post-processing of the data is minimal. The result is a map with sub-meter accuracy, which the client can use to maximize site development while avoiding sensitive resources. Following the project strategy, SCS incorporated the field data into an electronic platform merges into the clients’ planning and design database. With an electronic format, the client is capable of incorporating SCS’s data fluently into their plans. Providing this data helps identify constraints associated with each area earlier.

Although the project goal is to minimize and avoid sensitive resources, collecting the permit application data is another project requirement. The aforementioned embedded questions in the data collection tool are explicitly developed to fulfill a permit application’s needs. If the client’s design impacts sensitive resources, the information file permits are housed within the project database.

SCS also performs a data analysis generating a hierarchal weighted constraints map. This map identifies the areas with the highest and lowest concentration of sensitive resource constraints. This map provides for an immediate review of places that have a higher probability of requiring permits. Also, the map determines low-quality areas that may have suitable habitat but would probably not be inhabited, therefore have little to no detrimental impacts to sensitive species. Where permitting’s required, our client’s ability to select areas with lower quality conditions could reduce permit requirements.

Early engagement and using an electronic mapping/data system, SCS was able to identify existing constraints that our client could navigate during their planning and design. Although the goal is to avoid unnecessary permits, the collected data also focuses on assessing the existing features if permits are needed.

SCS’s use of electronic data collection systems integrated into a geospatially referenced database expedites and economizes the site planning and design phase. It provides accurate information on the need for permits which often impacts the project schedule.