Land Requirement for Solar Farms! Is My Land Suitable?
Solar farms are an innovative energy solution that puts unused land to excellent use, benefiting landowners, solar customers, and even the environment. And as this form of solar energy becomes increasingly popular, solar farm developers are actively searching for appropriate sites to host their next project.
Leasing your land to a solar farm business can be an outstanding way to earn a steady stream of passive income. Not only can you secure financial benefits for the next 10 to 20 years, but you’ll also be playing an invaluable part in the future of sustainable energy. And when the lease is complete, your land will still be in the same condition as when it began – if not better.
What is a Solar Farm?You may be familiar with rooftop solar panels, but solar farms (also called community solar gardens) take a slightly different approach to harnessing the power of the sun. Community solar developers locate their large-scale solar arrays on parcels of land, rather than on buildings. Community Solarcompanies typically utilize rural land for these large projects, often targeting land that may otherwise be unproductive or undevelopable. Community solar gardens can span dozens of acres and contain thousands of solar panels.
Individuals can become “subscribers” to the solar garden/farm’s off put, essentially claiming a portion of the energy produced. In return, subscribers receive solar credits on their electricity bills.
Community solar makes solar energy accessible for individuals who cannot have (or do not want) rooftop solar panels, whether for reasons related to budget, structure size/style, location, rental agreement rules, or other factors. It also empowers landowners to purposefully utilize inactive land to produce income.
Solar gardens/farms are a solution that benefits everyone:
- Residents gain access to lower utility rates
- Landowners earn money from land they aren’t using or unproductive land
- States and communities are able to work towards energy and environmental goals
What are the Requirements for Solar Farm Land Development?When evaluating land for community solar gardens, there are a few characteristics developers must first assess. These can include land size, proximity to utility infrastructure, and topography, to name a few.
While each piece of land can pose its own challenge, skilled developers often excel at finding effective solutions in order to make a site suitable for a project. So, if you are uncertain if your land can meet all of the criteria, we highly recommend connecting with a SunShare team member to discuss.
With that in mind, here are some of the basic criteria for leasing land for solar farm development.
Land sizeHow much land is needed for a solar farm? Ultimately, this is subject to the type of solar farm planned. In some cases, as few as 5-10 acres may be acceptable. But typically, 30-40 acres is needed for an average-sized solar farm. And of course, solar developers are always happy to look at land parcels over 40 acres!
Landowners who own two or more neighboring plots may consider “bundling” their parcels of land. As you would imagine, larger plots allow for a larger project, thus generating more revenue in the long run.
Topography/landscape terrainFlatland is nearly always the ideal option for solar development, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your property must be perfectly flat in order to be accepted. Parcels that slightly slope to the east or south can actually permit better sun exposure for the solar panels. Sites with small, rolling hills or a gentle grade can often be workable as long as the land is only moderate in slope.
Community solar gardens also require mostly clear land, so land free of trees and shrubs is always appealing. If your land is not entirely open, a developer may need to remove any vegetation that could obstruct the site, or could cause shading of the solar panels in the future.
Floodplain and wetland issues are also a major consideration for solar land development. Projects cannot be built in a 100- or 500-year floodplain. Additionally, wetlands cannot be present in the proposed solar farm area. A developer can, however, build near a floodplain or wetland if only part of a land parcel is impacted. Oftentimes, a developer can assist a landowner in requesting information from the appropriate agencies to verify land details.
Local regulations or conservation measuresCertain areas may fall under local laws that prohibit solar farm development.In other cases, the regulatory processes may be so prohibitive that they make solar development extremely difficult. A developer must be able to pursue the proper permits without major issues.
Some land falls under conservation or environmental regulations, which can also prevent development. For example, if a protected species of a plant or animal is present on the land, construction may not be possible.
The proximity of nearby infrastructureA critical component in determining if a piece of land can house a solar garden is the land’s proximity to utility infrastructure. Developers need to be able to interconnect their arrays directly to the local utility’s grid. This means the land must be within 0.2 miles of a three phase distribution line, as well as 5 miles or less from the nearest utility substation. The further a site is from these two critical elements, the more expensive a project can be – and after a certain point it becomes too expensive to build. Constraints on the infrastructure (e.g. if there are too many solar projects interconnecting to the same substation) can also halt a project, even if the proximity is ideal.
Land with the right physical attributes won’t be usable if the interconnection status does not look good, so developers will always need to check your site’s proximity to infrastructure before moving forward.
LandownerOf course, land can only be a good match for a solar farm developer if leasing is the right fit for the landowner. There are many benefits to leasing land for solar development, with the most obvious being the financial gains.
We’ve stated how solar can be a valuable option for unproductive land that cannot be farmed, but solar can also often be a more profitable option for farmers who grow dry land crops, have low or unreliable crop yields, or do not have water rights. And if you are a farmer who is interested in leasing your land for solar, but want to continue farming, Sunshare is a perfect partner. Sunshare has experience in developing farmers’ unused pivot corners, and in developing agro voltaic projects (in which farmers can actually grow crops under the solar panels)!
Industrial or commercial properties can also be leased to a solar farm developer if the land meets the necessary criteria. In fact, solar is an excellent use for land where oil and gas infrastructure is housed, as this land is frequently unable to be used for agriculture or residential or commercial development.
What to Expect When Leasing Land for a Solar FarmIf you have land that does meet solar farm criteria, you may be wondering: what does the development and leasing process entail?
Specific lease terms and contract lengths can vary, largely depending on your location. SunShare works closely with our landowner partners to set up a lease that provides competitive compensation and aligns with each landowner’s specific needs.
As the developer, we manage all aspects of the project, including land preparation, construction, operation, and maintenance. We also focus on creating projects that have positive impacts on the surrounding environment or community. For example, some of our solar gardens are mowed, not by equipment, but by the sheep herd of a local rancher. And when the solar arrays reach the ends of their life cycles, Sunshare removes all equipment and restores the land so that it may be used once again.
Learn How to Lease Land for Solar Power as a SunShare PartnerSunShare is one of the nation’s leading community solar garden developers, with dozens of active solar projects across Colorado and Minnesota. One of our top priorities is ensuring that every one of our landowner partners has the resources they need to make a confident and informed decision. Our team is always available to answer any questions you may have about solar farmland requirements, and whether your land may be a good fit.
If you’re interested in joining the future of the energy industry – and earning reliable, hassle-free income at the same time – we invite you to contact SunShare today.