What it takes to build a solar farm

on May 6, 2022

If you’ve already joined Arcadia’s community solar program, you’ll know firsthand — it’s a pretty easy process. Just a few minutes walking through our secure signup, and we can get you matched with a local solar farm even before it is operational, so that we can ensure you have a spot. But a lot of work goes into making your solar subscription that simple — it took our engineers years to make this clean energy connection as user-friendly as possible.

Today, just by providing your utility credentials and a payment method, your business can help get more solar energy into your state’s power grid, decrease dependence on fossil fuels, repurpose land for sustainable use, and boost your local economy. Community solar also benefits your bottom line; your business will earn savings toward your monthly energy costs, guaranteed. You don’t even have to handle any panels — and neither does Arcadia.

But just because building solar farms is a whole other business doesn’t mean it’s none of your business! We think it helps to understand the full picture behind your power, so today we’re diving into what it takes for a solar farm to go from a good idea to a grid generator.

The typical solar farm timeline

So, where does a functioning solar farm begin?

Step 1: Funding

First and foremost is funding. Connecting to the grid doesn’t come cheap — installing solar panels typically costs about a million dollars per megawatt, and that doesn’t even account for expenses like renting the land or maintaining the panels. To assess the investment, solar farm developers complete complex cost analyses and examine the tax implications behind an undertaking of this scale. If the project proves valuable to stakeholders, the next step is to approach financiers and secure the significant funding necessary to carry out the construction.

Step 2: Identify a site

Identifying a suitable site to construct the community solar farm is another massive effort in itself. From proximity to grid infrastructure to quality of soil and direct sunlight, there is no shortage of factors to consider in this search, and developers usually need about six to eight acres per megawatt to host the panels. Once a site has been selected, developers enter negotiations with the property owner to arrive at a reasonable rent and lease agreement.

Step 3: Construction

Then, of course, there is a whole suite of undertakings related to the construction. To start, developers need all the proper licenses and permits, such as an operating agreement, a land conversion certificate, a contract labor license, and an insurance policy. With so much to get approved and arranged, it’s not unusual for this pre-construction phase to take developers as long as five years. Once building actually begins, however, a solar farm can be constructed in a matter of six to twelve months.

Step 4: Connecting to the grid

At this stage, it’s time for the energy work — bringing the solar farm “online” by getting it connected to the local power grid. Securing that connection means developers must work with utilities to (A) get confirmation that the physical grid can support the project and (B) ensure that the power being generated by the solar farm is being properly accounted for.

Community solar is on the rise

At this point in the renewable energy movement, community solar farms are still a novel concept; the first community solar legislation was only passed in 2010, and as of December 2021, only 22 states, plus Washington, DC, have policies that support community solar. Joining a solar farm is a wonderful way to support the expansion of these programs — “the best energy product out there,” as our CEO often says, referring to their accessibility to energy consumers and the additionality they offer in support of cleaner grids.

The time it takes to bring them into the world is well worth the way they support its health; we predict and hope that in the coming years, this model for zero-carbon generation will become even more commonplace. In the meantime, we’d encourage you to nurture your curiosity about this revolutionary clean energy concept and spread awareness for solar farms by sharing what you learn. The more folks we can educate on community solar, the more momentum we can add to its growth and the faster we can accelerate energy’s decarbonization.

Still have questions about community solar? Below is a collection of FAQs from our community. Please also feel free to contact our team of Energy Advisors at support@arcadia.com with any follow-ups!

Frequently asked questions

What causes projects to delay?

Delays in bringing a community solar farm online usually stem from three workflows:

  • Project construction
  • Utility interconnection
  • Utility data integration

Common reasons for construction delays include supply chain issues, poor weather, and permitting timelines. It can also take longer than expected for the utility in question to (A) get a solar farm physically connected to the grid and/or (B) properly integrate the necessary data to ensure that solar farm subscribers are credited for their participation.

What is the average delay time we see?

Depending on the reason, project delays can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. Construction delays are most common and typically last two to three months or longer.

How do project delays impact subscribers?

When a community solar farm’s timeline for going live is extended, the implication for subscribers is a delay in the savings they will earn once the farm starts generating clean electricity. However, subscribers do not have to take any action when the project to which they are assigned is set back; Arcadia continues to manage their subscription and will ensure that the subscriber’s account is up to date and ready to start automatically collecting solar savings when the project officially comes online.

How does Arcadia handle these delays?

As a third-party service provider, Arcadia has no direct control over project delays. We do our best to monitor delays and keep our members informed of the latest status.

Have a question not covered here? Contact our team of Energy Advisors at support@arcadia.com!