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Solar Array Development Requires Site-Specific Planning

Ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) colar solar energy panel

View of a ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) solar panel array installation.

Across the country, the clean energy revolution has been quietly expanding its reach into the U.S. energy sector for several decades. Because of renewable energy’s ability to reduce carbon pollution and minimize negative impacts on our environment, the increase in demand is only expected to continue. Snyder & Associates, as a multi-disciplinary engineering firm, has been at the forefront of this energy shift. Our team has provided professional services for dozens of ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) solar panel array installations across the Midwest and Southwest on project sites ranging from twenty to several hundred acres.

We’ve provided our services for all clients — from private owners/developers and Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) contractors to major energy companies. Snyder & Associates’ extensive resume of real-world experience has solidified our understanding of renewable energy industry standards and enhanced our familiarity with federal, state, and local regulations and permitting requirements in countless jurisdictions. This in-depth knowledge allows us to navigate the regulatory process diligently and efficiently, keeping solar installation projects on budget and on time.

Solar Array Installation from Initial Planning to Utility Interconnection

Regarding ground-mounted solar array site development, Snyder & Associates does not believe in taking shortcuts. We realize the money invested in the initial stages can go a long way toward a facility’s successful operation in the future. A few critical steps in the initial planning process include topographic and ALTA/NSPS Land Title surveys, Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA), wetland delineation, and stormwater pollution prevention planning (SWPPP).

One important consideration when locating a solar array project is whether or not the site is physically appropriate for the technology. This can include whether the amount of physical space required for the array is adequate, the stability and slope of the soil on the site, and the proximity to the nearest interconnection point. Our team will also note the current on-site vegetation and whether this will need pruning for construction and maintenance in the future.

Solar Site Development Demands Effective & Strategic Civil Design

landscape view looking down solar energy array row

Adequate grading and panel spacing are critical for optimal solar array performance.

The civil engineering efforts at the core of our design work for solar array installations provide the underlying structure that allows solar power facilities to exist and operate. We can integrate the design by incorporating grading and stormwater mitigation constraints with the solar array layout early in the process. Our designers can often balance any earthwork quantities on-site while designing efficient access roads that help minimize construction costs. We continually aim to minimize the amount of land disturbance on-site to balance each environment’s unique sensitivities.

The Snyder & Associates design professionals also have experience with solar racking and tracking products. Site topography is thoroughly examined and can be cross-sectioned to determine if the natural lay of the land is capable of supporting the existing racking tolerances of the equipment to be used. Our team utilizes Civil 3D AutoCAD software to ensure constructability is fully achieved.

For solar installation sites that will disturb more than one acre of land during construction activities, a stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) is required. Snyder & Associates considers the SWPPP a necessary and sound environmental practice. An SWPPP contains Best Management Practices (BMP) for protecting the site from erosion and sedimentation through mitigation measures, such as native vegetation, swales, bioretention areas, and silt fences.

Laying the Groundwork for Seamless Construction Staging & Regulatory Coordination

The extensive and diligent design efforts created by our team upfront are crucial to ensure ample space for on-site construction activities. Construction staging, access, and lay-down areas are all critical for a successful build. This planning also positively influences bid prices, as a convenient construction site ultimately lowers the bid cost for the overall project.

For our designers, coordination with regulatory agencies represents more of a scheduling challenge to the project rather than a technical complication. Early coordination with these agencies is critical so that timelines toward approvals can be understood and planned appropriately. Agency coordination partners typically include local townships, county zoning boards, state departments of natural resources, and occasionally the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Snyder & Associates has provided services for numerous solar energy projects across Iowa, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada. When designing large-scale, ground-mounted solar energy facilities, our team can leverage a full range of civil engineering services to ensure that every goal is met for our client. Our multi-disciplinary engineering professionals have the expertise to design solar array installation sites and all necessary site mitigations efficiently. We’ll thoughtfully balance the expectations in quality and cost while ensuring that the final product satisfies the highest professional compliance standards — for our clients and their customers.

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