The SEIA White Paper sets out a framework for engaging with communities and minimizing the impact of solar placement.

With the passage of Art Law on reducing inflationand solar contracts set recordsthe development of utility-scale solar power plants is expected to accelerate. As a result, the placement of a large-scale project will be a challenge. The Solar and Storage Industry Institute (SI2) has addressed the siting issue and released a white paper on strategies that maximize clean energy development while preserving natural ecosystems and community character.

white paper Large-scale solar deployment: promoting ecosystem improvement and conservation while producing much-needed zero-carbon electricityprovides guidance on actions companies can take to engage with communities and minimize impacts on surrounding lands and communities to improve the siting and permitting process.

“Solar development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive — there is more common ground than many realize,” said David Gall, SI2’s executive director and lead author of the paper. “SI2 also found that the benefits of solar energy storage extend far beyond the clean electricity fed into the grid. Regulators and federal agencies can go further and consider these benefits when approving large-scale solar projects.”

The document defines large projects as anything larger than 1 MW, which matches the projects on the Solar Energy Industries Association’s “Large Solar Project List.” One only has to look at recent installations to see the amount of land needed for future growth. Last year, for example, 17 GW of DC capacity was installed, with 80.2 GW of DC capacity under development, roughly equivalent to 40 large nuclear power plants.

Given that many more projects will be launched on the grid by 2050, the issue of land use is also important. The Department of Energy estimates that the area needed for expected development by 2050 will be roughly equivalent to the size of Maryland.

The White Paper recommends that decision-makers rely on existing legislation when developing a project, which requires an environmental impact assessment and early engagement with the local community. He advises against imposing new restrictions on renewable energy projects that are unnecessary and could cause confusion that could lengthen the permitting and siting process.

The study highlights that demand can be met by using less than 10% of already disturbed land, such as landfills, brownfields and parking lots, but not all of these sites are close to infrastructure or unsuitable for development.

Installing solar panels can be met with resistance from community members, often based on misinformation. But to achieve a zero-emissions grid, the amount of land used for solar energy needs to grow, and thus public opinion needs to be addressed. Solar can be used as a tool to save the earth because, unlike in a shopping mall, the racks and panels can be removed at the end of their life.

Solar installations on agricultural land can save crops, and many examples of agroelectric installations prove the benefits of dual-purpose solar energy. Advertising conservation benefits is a good place to start, and potential benefits should be considered in the permitting process.

States can also help by developing clean energy project development tools for local governments.

“When it comes to new development or infrastructure projects, community engagement is key,” Gal said. “There is no substitute for early and frequent conversations with community members, and developers must listen carefully to community members and address any local concerns. Unless solar companies pay attention to thoughtful engagement with society, we will have a hard time deploying the amount of solar and storage needed to rapidly decarbonize the grid.”

The document describes the stages of obtaining local permits. With more than 90,000 local governments across the US, there is considerable variation as well as overlap in the permitting process. The report presents three fundamental principles of local permits, a framework for development and other recommendations for local governments.

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