Discussion of Solar Farm Decommissioning

What happens to a Utility-Scale Solar farm at end of the initial lease?

  • What conditions will mark the end of the lease?
    • Most leases are for around 30 years and include options for two ten year extensions
    • Solar developer fails to fulfill terms of the lease
  • When a lease ends who is responsible to prepare the site for its next use
    • The landowner has an obvious vested interest in protecting the long-term usability of their land and so usually stipulates safeguards in any lease to guarantee their land will be suitable for use at the end of the lease. My solar option specifies if the developer exercises their option, they commit to specific obligations. If they fail to meet those obligations, they have a defined period to fully decommission the site or all equipment left on the land reverts to my ownership. (Remember a solar farm site typically hold hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment.)
    • If we adopt the reclamation portion of the KENTUCKY RESOURCES COUNCIL model ordinance it states states
      • A performance bond, letter of credit, or other financial assurance payable to [Board of Adjustment or applicable governmental unit], sufficient to cover the net costs identified in subsection 9b and to assure that decommissioning of the site can be achieved by a third party in the event that permittee defaults in that obligation, which financial assurance shall be provided prior to commencement of construction,
      • See below for complete text
    • However, the significant point is that developer must post a bond to cover the projected net cost to decommission the site BEFORE commencing construction.
  • This is also a time to dispel some misconceptions about solar farm construction.
    • Solar panels are supported off of metal posts driven into the ground. Unlike a house, factory or retail construction, there is no reason to try and “level” the entire site. Since no concrete is used around these support posts decommissioning simply requires removing the panels, then their metal racking system, and then pulling the posts.
    • Clik image to read more about solar panel recycling
    • Electricity first moves from the panels
      • along wires supported with the panel racking (this is easily removed with the racking.)
      • When these conductors reach the end of “their” rack they enter conduits that lead (underground) to an inverter. The salvage value of these electrical conductors will more than cover the expense needed to remove these buried conduits.
      • The inverters sit on a concrete pad made specifically for that inverter. The inverted arrived by truck and can easily be disconnected and removed the same way. Each inverter’s concrete base will be easily demolished and can be removed and used as “fill” on some other local development.
      • Underground conduit connect the inverters to the solar farm’s central electrical substation that delivers the farm’s power to the “regional electrical distribution grid”. These portions of the farm can be removed much like the inverters and their conductors. It is significant that the substation will usually occupy less than 1 % of the solar farm.
    • Since the solar farm’s roads are simply rock spread over dirt, one can pick up most of the rock and be very close to the original situation. Rock that can not be picked up will not stop farming as sadly most farms already have an abundance of rocks in their fields
    • A solar farm perimeter fencing prevents accidental contact with high voltage conductors. Often these fences also can fulfill an agricultural need after solar farm is decommissioning.
    • The same amount of rain will fall on the site after decommissioning as before, so all catch ponds etc. that help control water runoff will still perform a valuable service to the community and need not be removed
  • When one discusses “reclamation” one needs to consider the alternative if the land is not a solar farm. Currently, cash row crops provide the only large-scale method to replace tobacco and dairy income. Thirty more years of continuous no-till corn and soybeans will almost certainly cause the loss of all remaining topsoil, while the same period of sod under solar panels will help protect topsoil, improve organic matter and reduce ag chemicals entering our watersheds. In short, I believe solar will protect the land much better than current alternatives.
  • All talk of decommissioning seems to be based on the finite resource consumption model, where once the timber, coal, lime, or some other resource is depleted, one must do something else with the property. I believe solar will follow a different model. It seems certain the need for electricity will be at least as great in 30 years as it is now. As far as running out of sunlight, when the sunlight stops, none of us will have any longterm problems. The hardest thing about a solar lease is forecasting the technologies and economic conditions 30 to 50 years in the future. When a lease expires, the landowner can negotiate a new lease with a solar developer based on the then-available technology. Because their property will already have a substation, perimeter fencing, and other infrastructure installed, they should have a competitive advantage over constructing a new solar farm.