With more than 600,000 miles of operational transmission lines throughout the U.S., there is a significant opportunity for investments in conservation. By establishing native vegetation in these project corridors, developers and private landowners can add value to the rights of way used by electric transmission infrastructure. The size of prairie strips and the goal of providing conservation outcomes allows landowners and developers to work together to adopt this practice on private farmland within transmission line corridors. Farmers and project developers contemplating the adoption of prairie strips on private lands within transmission line corridors should also note that the width of an individual prairie strip may be adjusted to accomplish the purpose of the practice, prairie strips may not exceed 25 percent of the cropland area per field, developers could form agreements with participating and/or surrounding landowners to manage this vegetation, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has vegetative height requirements depending on transmission line voltage and type, and owners of public land may also qualify for cost-share for prairie strips through CRP if the land is being farmed.

This manual covers the business models or pathways through which electric cooperatives can deploy utility-scale solar PV installations to meet their renewable energy goals. In this report, they define utility-scale solar PV installations for the electric cooperative sector as being 1 MW or larger—to account for the interest they have witnessed in the sector as well as the smaller scale of operations of cooperative utilities. However, the analysis and discussion presented in this manual, as well as the models used herein, apply to installations as small as 0.25 MW. Electric cooperatives’ interest in solar energy has risen in recent years. Although not-for-profit co-ops are not typically eligible for tax benefits, they often seek a “taxable partner” for solar and wind projects, either through a power-purchase-agreement or through a shared ownership model, such as a tax-equity flip or a tax-lease-buyback project. The ITC extension reduces pressure for planners to implement solar projects in 2016 and allows for more careful planning. This is especially important for co-ops that are planning community solar projects, because it allows them to pursue a multi-year plan and avoid trying to cram everything into 2016. Solar costs are expected to continue falling as the technology and the industry continue to mature. The steep rate of cost savings seen in recent years will likely slow, however. Solar Power Purchase Agreements utilizing various tax incentives have already fallen under $60 per MWh in many parts of the US—and below $40 per MWh in some areas. With the continued cost reduction, more parts of the country will start to see prices for large scale projects in the $50 to $60 per MWh range. When combined with falling costs and industry maturity of large scale energy storage, this may open opportunities for investment in carbon-free generation technologies as replacement for more traditional sources of energy, especially peaking plants. The new law will also provide a measure of stability for the development of wind projects over the next four years. Both wind and solar will play an important role in developing state implementation plans to meet the 2015 EPA Clean Power Plan.

Modifications to the surface albedo through the deployment of cool roofs and pavements (reflective materials) and photovoltaic arrays (low reflection) have the potential to change radiative forcing, surface temperatures, and regional weather patterns. In this work we investigate the regional climate and radiative effects of modifying surface albedo to mimic massive deployment of cool surfaces (roofs and pavements) and, separately, photovoltaic arrays across the United States. The researchers use a fully coupled regional climate model, the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, to investigate feedbacks between surface albedo changes, surface temperature, precipitation and average cloud cover. With the adoption of cool roofs and pavements, domain-wide annual average outgoing radiation increased by 0.16 ± 0.03 W m−2 (mean ± 95% C.I.) and afternoon summertime temperature in urban locations was reduced by 0.11–0.53 ◦C, although some urban areas showed no statistically significant temperature changes. In response to increased urban albedo, some rural locations showed summer afternoon temperature increases of up to +0.27 ◦C and these regions were correlated with less cloud cover and lower precipitation. The emissions offset obtained by this increase in outgoing radiation is calculated to be 3.3 ± 0.5 Gt CO2 (mean ± 95% C.I.). The hypothetical solar arrays were designed to be able to produce one terawatt of peak energy and were located in the Mojave Desert of California. To simulate the arrays, the desert surface albedo was darkened, causing local afternoon temperature increases of up to +0.4 ◦C. Due to the solar arrays, local and regional wind patterns within a 300 km radius were affected. Statistically significant but lower magnitude changes to temperature and radiation could be seen across the domain due to the introduction of the solar arrays. The addition of photovoltaic arrays caused no significant change to summertime outgoing radiation when averaged over the full domain, as interannual variation across the continent obscured more consistent local forcing.

While solar facilities are a viable source of clean energy with many economic opportunities available to developers, landowners, and local communities, their recent deployment has led to a growing recognition of potential land use conflicts. The declining technology costs, tax breaks, financial incentives, and affordability of rural lands have been the main drivers of the recent development of solar facilities across Virginia. However, as these facilities grow larger and more prevalent, they will become an increasingly important component of local land use patterns in many parts of rural Virginia. Accordingly, proper land use planning serves a critical role in ensuring that Virginia successfully meets future clean energy goals while also promoting sustainable and efficient land use practices. Analyzing the ongoing land use impacts of utility-scale solar development, establishing a process for tracking future land use patterns, and providing guidance to consider the best land use practices is the primary purpose of this plan. The goal of this plan is not to undermine the opportunity and potential of solar energy. Instead, this plan seeks to inform solar energy development policies through a land use planning perspective to promote the sustainable development of solar facilities. The recommendations of this plan are intended for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy and are informed by the results of this research. However, the findings and recommendations for this plan are also informative and useful for a variety of stakeholders. The sustainable development of solar energy facilities in Virginia will ultimately be a collaborative process and the following recommendations are intended to complement the ongoing work of numerous stakeholders across the state.

Wisconsin utilities are partnering with companies that want to develop more clean energy at scale, and support win-win solar development with a voluntary pollinator-friendly standard that will enable bees, birds, and soil to thrive where solar development sprouts up. RENEW Wisconsin answers some common questions about Wisconsin’s evolving solar energy landscape such as existing and developing utility solar arrays, land use, zoning, and benefits to local landowners and governments.

Berkeley Lab’s annual Utility-Scale Solar report presents trends in deployment, technology, capital expenditures (CapEx), operating expenses (OpEx), capacity factors, the levelized cost of solar energy (LCOE), power purchase agreement (PPA) prices, and wholesale market value among the fleet of utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems in the United States (where “utility-scale” is defined as any ground-mounted project larger than 5 MWAC). This summary briefing highlights key trends from the latest edition of the report, covering data on projects built through year-end 2020. Median installed project costs have steadily fallen by nearly 75% (averaging 12% annually) since 2010, to $1.4/WAC ($1.1/WDC) among 68 utility-scale PV plants (totaling 5.1 GWAC) completed in 2020 (Figure 3). Costs were lowest in the Southeast ($1.2/WAC or $0.9/WDC) and highest in CAISO. Projects that use single-axis tracking have slightly higher up-front costs than fixed-tilt projects, but the difference has narrowed over time, particularly since 2015. Looking ahead, the amount of utility-scale solar—and solar+storage—capacity in the development pipeline suggests continued momentum and a significant expansion of the industry in future years. At the end of 2020, there were at least 460 GW of utility-scale solar power capacity within the interconnection queues across the nation, 170 GW of which first entered the queues in 2020. Nearly 160 GW of the 460 GW total (i.e., 34% of all solar in the queues) include batteries. Solar (both standalone and in hybrid form, including batteries) is by far the largest resource within these queues, roughly equal to the amount of wind, storage, and natural gas combined. The growth of solar within these queues is widely distributed across almost all regions of the country, with PJM and the non-ISO West leading the way with nearly 90 GWAC each, followed by ERCOT, MISO, and the non-ISO Southeast, each with ~60 GWAC. Nearly 90% of the solar capacity in CAISO’s queue at the end of 2020 was paired with a battery; in the non-ISO West, that number is also relatively high, at 67%. Though not all of these projects will ultimately be built as planned (i.e., entering the queues is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for development success), the ongoing influx and widening geographic distribution of both standalone solar and solar+storage projects within these queues is as clear of an indication as any of the accelerating energy transition and the major role that the utility-scale PV sector will continue to play in the years to come.

Empirical Trends in Deployment, Technology, Cost, Performance, PPA Pricing, and Value in the United States.

The Morris Ridge Solar Project is a proposed solar farm on approximately 1,060 acres in the Town of Mount Morris, southern Livingston County, New York. The project site is within an area farmed primarily in a cash cropping rotation. The Morris Ridge Solar project is being designed to integrate agricultural uses, including a managed grazing system that utilizes sheep grazing to control vegetation growth under and around the solar panels. Sheep grazing is a method of vegetation control used on solar facilities around the world and is increasingly being used in the Northeastern United States to provide a solution that can promote and incorporate an agricultural use within a solar photovoltaic facility. The Morris Ridge Solar project is also being planned to accommodate honeybees and honey production. Through the incorporation of pollinator-friendly vegetation into the project design, solar farms can create suitable habitat for honeybees. Co-locating honeybee apiaries and solar farms has been proven to be a successful method of integrating agricultural use at solar farms throughout North America. The Morris Ridge Solar project will seek to contract the grazing through local farmers who either currently own sheep or wish to expand sheep enterprises as part of their farm business. To engage with these farmers and determine which candidates are best fit for the contracted grazing, MRSEC and AVS have worked to conduct outreach locally and assess interest from the farm community. Initial interest has been solid, with several area farmers expressing interest in contract grazing either parts of the site or the entire site. The solar site will be seeded with a seed mix designed for the special circumstances of the site: grazing, honey production, low-growing, shade and sun tolerant. The seed mix will be selected based on soil testing results, which is scheduled for fall 2020. The seed mix will be something akin to Ernst Conservation Seed’s Fuzz & Buzz Mix. A mix of pasture grasses, legumes (all flowering plants), and forbs (more flowers), it is a diverse and robust blend designed to balance the needs of agrivoltaic production. The seed mix is integral to the vegetation management plan. The vegetation management is planned to support perennial pastures that nearly always have flowering plants. This perennial rotation of the sheep keeps vegetation in sequence of rest and grazing. This sequence is cyclical, and the structure allows the legumes and forbs time to flower from May to October. With the planned rotation of the sheep, the availability of nectar from flowering plants across a large area that are stimulated to bloom consistently throughout the season should allow the bees to thrive. EDF-Renewables has taken care to strategically plan for a high level of agricultural integration at the Morris Ridge Solar Facility. The solar facility is proposed to create a new opportunity for a livestock grazier and a commercial honey producer in the region. Over the rest of 2020, AVS and EDF-Renewables will work to find the right farm partners to facilitate the plans identified above. The construction plans will be fine-tuned with a grazing operation in mind. The future site graziers will have several years to bring their livestock operations up to speed in harmony with the construction schedule. Our team looks forward to project success that incorporates and strengthens the regional agricultural community in the Morris Ridge Solar Project.

Across the U.S., many cities, counties, and states are taking advantage of affordable renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy. Over the past nine years, the price of installing solar energy projects has decreased by 70 percent, while the average cost of constructing a wind energy project has fallen by more than 67 percent per kilowatt hour since 1983.1,2 This rapid decline in cost has empowered Americans to embrace affordable, clean, and renewable energy. While all investments in conservation promote environmental improvement, developers can follow a few best practices to ensure project success. For example, native seed mixes offer the greatest return on investment when aiming to provide ecosystem services, such as habitat for pollinators and wildlife, as well as improved water quality and soil health. If possible, project developers should prioritize native seed selections over naturalized, non-invasive species of vegetation. Pollinators play a critical role in the robust food, fuel, and fiber production economy of the Midwest. By pollinating agricultural crops, this group of insects is crucial to ensuring economic and food security. Research shows the populations of all pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, and monarch butterflies, were three-and-a-half times greater on sites with investments in the reestablishment of native vegetation in central Iowa when compared to control sites. Seeding a site with native and naturalized, non-invasive vegetation presents opportunities for the introduction of livestock grazing for management. For example, pollinator-friendly solar sites have seen success with rotational grazing of sheep as a management option. Sheep are recommended for pollinator-friendly solar projects because goats and cattle could cause damage to on-site equipment. Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, are growing rapidly. As the industry continues to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, stimulate local and state tax revenue, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, new investments in electric transmission infrastructure will inevitably occur. By developing resources for site managers of renewable energy infrastructure, public officials at all levels are well positioned to add value to these projects. Investments in native and naturalized, non-invasive vegetation ensure habitat for at-risk pollinators, including the monarch butterfly, while creating habitat for vulnerable wildlife species. These species are crucial for economic and food security in the Midwest and underwriting renewable energy projects with perennial vegetation improves quality of life for all.

This publication reviews planning the use of land for large-scale utility solar energy.