Developing wind and solar projects is complicated. It takes time, money, and the right level of expertise to achieve a successful outcome, i.e. a project that makes economic sense and works for the project stakeholders and community. We manage all the development activity with our team of subject matter experts. We also fund 100% of the project development costs.
Below are the main activities within the development process, many of which are done concurrently.
We have a process by which we search and sort development opportunities by using a stringent screening tool. We look for fatal flaws and/or redeeming qualities and act accordingly. We make our initial assessments of potential sites based on several criteria, including wind and solar resource, constructability, transmission access, site size and location, land ownership, environmental, zoning, and other state and local laws and regulations. We consider the cost to build, our ability to get a revenue contract, and the likely pricing under that contract to determine how competitive the project would be relative to the current and forecasted market conditions. One of the most important criteria is initial fatal flaw analysis for environmental impacts. Typically, this is a desktop analysis, sometimes supplemented with a site visit, to identify unique wildlife habitats, wetlands, culturally significant resources and proximity to wildlife reserves.
Our in-house meteorology, real estate, construction, permitting and transmission teams conduct initial reviews of publicly available information, including wind and solar resource reports, land records, topographical maps and transmission maps. They also use our proprietary data to identify significant impediments that could result in a project’s ability to be successful.
Solar and Wind Resource Assessment and Monitoring
We begin a solar and wind resource assessment at the earliest stage of the development process. We base our initial assessment of the available solar and wind resources on a review of publicly available resource maps. If the results of the initial assessment are positive, we seek to install on-site measurement equipment to obtain long-term site-specific solar and wind data.
Our in-house resource assessment team uses industry computer models to estimate potential solar and wind resources at that particular site. As the project evolves, a third-party assessment is completed in order to provide verification to us and project finance parties.
Procuring land rights begins during the prospecting process. Land rights include all necessary agreements (such as leases, options, easements and letters of intent) needed to construct and operate a solar or wind project, including those associated with generating equipment, transmission and collection lines, access roads, facilities and any other easements that may be required. We use publicly available data or prior experience to determine if there are any known impediments to securing the land rights we need. From there, we conduct initial meetings with local landowners, government officials, community representatives and residents to gauge community support. If these meetings are favorable, we generally enter into long dated options, land leases, or easements with landowners to secure necessary rights to build all the features of the project.
Sales of Electricity and Environmental Attributes
In order to attract long term capital to the project, a long-term contract is typically put in place between the project and the buyer. Depending on the region, there are usually multiple alternatives, such as a long-term PPA with an electric utility or corporate user, or to sell the power into the market and enter into a long-term financial hedge linked to electricity prices. We have a lot of experience in selling renewable energy to various buyers.
Transmission & Interconnection
A successful project needs to have the transmission infrastructure and access to physically deliver the electricity and environmental attributes to a power grid or network. During the prospecting phase or later, we file applications and/or perform feasibility studies with the relevant independent system operator (ISO) or local electric utility to interconnect with the network. If transmission infrastructure does not exist or is not available for a project, we study the feasibility of developing and constructing our own generator lead.
Once we have selected a site, we begin the permitting process with relevant local, state and federal government agencies. This process is fulsome and includes identifying required permits; holding preliminary informational meetings with permitting agencies and stakeholder groups; determining the studies needed for permit applications and conducting the studies; preparing environmental permitting and disclosure reports; participating in public meetings; responding to information requests; and seeking project approval. We also complete preliminary design engineering, taking into account environmentally sensitive areas to avoid or minimize adverse impacts.
Typically, we obtain local municipal or county level permits, such as a special use or conditional use permit under a land use ordinance or code, or, in some cases, rezoning in connection with the project. At the state level, requirements may include comprehensive environmental reviews or may be limited to a specific regulatory program or may involve both. Additional approvals may be required for specific aspects of a project, such as stream or wetland crossings, storm water management and highway department authorizations for oversize loads and state road closings during construction. Permitting requirements related to transmission lines may be required in certain cases. Finally, at the federal level and if applicable, approvals typically include potential effect of projects on aviation, the environment, endangered species and navigable waters.
Engineering, Procurement and Construction Oversight; Commissioning
We manage the design and construction of our projects. Construction consists of solar panel or turbine installations, substation construction, interconnection work, construction of the balance of plant, and, in certain cases, construction of long generator leads to connect our projects to a third-party electrical grid or network. We generally outsource solar panel and turbine installation and the remaining construction to outside contractors. The contractors provide the management, supervision, labor, certain materials, tools, engineering, mobilization, testing and demobilization required to construct the project. Our employees supervise and oversee all aspects of construction. Commissioning occurs immediately prior to the completion of a solar or wind energy project. It involves testing each solar block or turbine’s operation and integration within the project and to the transmission system.