3 Ways Transect Can Benefit Every Solar Developer
by Transect Team, on Feb 11, 2021
It’s no news that businesses around the world have been impacted by the global pandemic. While some are thriving, others are facing extremely challenging times. For those that are struggling, whether or not their business stays afloat during this health crisis largely depends on the key decisions that CEOs and executives make about their operations and resources. Perhaps more importantly, longevity and success depend on how effectively and efficiently they use their resources.
Many American industries have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and the solar industry is no exception. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. solar industry has been hard hit. However, during these tough economic times, it is important to look on the bright side of things. Certain states such as New York, have made it known that they will continue to push for the development of solar projects and even see it as a way to create jobs and jumpstart economic growth as a part of re-opening the economy. On Monday July 21st, 2020, New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced the largest solicitation for renewable energy in US history.
With all that said, it’s clear that solar developers are looking for ways to continue to develop projects more intelligently and under tighter budgets.
A crucial step in successful solar development is managing risk around the environmental resources present on a proposed site. Many natural resources (including wildlife, plant, and water resources) are statutorily protected by federal, state, and local laws. Well-known examples of such laws include the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Understanding environmental risk as early as possible is critical to an efficient and effective development process. This is where Transect can help. Transect is an online tool that identifies environmental risks, explains the regulations and permits relevant to those risks, and provides site-specific insight on recommendations and timelines to move projects forward. Here are the top three reasons why every solar developer should be using Transect:
1. Stop wasting resources chasing the wrong sites.
Many solar developers spend loads of time and money searching for land that meets certain criteria, i.e a minimum number of acres that are cleared, relatively flat with zero or minimal wetlands, and in close proximity to electrical infrastructure. The methods and resources (and therefore the amount of effort and money) that is put into searching for this ideal land differs amongst solar developers. Some may be more traditional in their approach while others may be more technical using geographic information systems (GIS) and other mapping tools to select potential sites. Whichever method they use, there is one thing in common: it is expensive.
Some solar developers also spend lots of money on marketing efforts to reach out to landowners in order to lock down a land lease agreement to have a feasible area to host their projects. In competitive markets where the pressure is high to secure land quickly, solar developers may rush to sign leases without any awareness of the environmental issues the sites could have. A lease may be signed for land that has the presence of endangered species, protected habitats, or one that is situated on wetlands or in a floodplain. This could mean the project permitting will be a nightmare or that the project won’t receive approval at all.
With Transect’s Vision tool, solar developers can significantly decrease the amount of land to prospect and any associated marketing expenses. They can generate and focus on a qualified shortlist of sites that meets all or most of their criteria around parcel size, slope, infrastructure proximity, etc., but they can also explore key environmental characteristics of the land by viewing various layers of environmental data, all provided in one platform. All of this makes them think twice about a site before offering or signing a lease agreement.
For solar developers who currently receive site leads from elsewhere, they may be able to bring the site selection portion of their business in-house by using Transect. Again, this will likely lead to time and money saved.
2. Get a critical environmental issues analysis on every potential site for the same price as one traditional CIA.
Transect’s Report tool allows for solar developers to very easily upload multiple possible project sites, generate an environmental constraints analysis, and rapidly determine whether or not the site is feasible from an environmental perspective. The reality is a site that looks great after a preliminary desktop review may not actually be as good as it seems after further research. Transect’s Report tool not only presents environmental data such as endangered species, critical habitats, waters, soils, and protected areas, it also provides easy-to-understand concern levels for those site characteristics, as well as a site-specific permit matrix, recommendations, and next steps. In other words, there is built-in risk assessment functionality that results in exponentially smarter and faster site evaluations.
Traditionally, solar developers piece together information about sites by compiling large amounts of public and proprietary mapping data and/or using third-party mapping tools. It is very easy to overlook or miss certain things, meaning that solar developers could potentially be sinking lots of money into sites that will be problematic to develop or not at all feasible. Transect provides access to these data files all in one spot and allows users to evaluate large numbers of sites at once. There is no limit on the amount of reports that a user can generate. This is a huge benefit compared to a traditional development approach where solar developers may contract this type of work to environmental consulting firms. They are more likely to charge on a site-by-site basis, meaning that the more sites they evaluate, the higher the cost.
Furthermore, Transect aims to give users a deeper understanding on project risks. As Donald Rumsfeld once said “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.”
Transect helps users discover the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. By gaining a deeper understanding of the project site through Transect’s Report tool, users have a deeper understanding of the potential development risks and the severity of them. Traditional GIS tools may allow solar developers to view some environmental characteristics of a site, but data is just that – data. GIS viewers do not provide context about what regulations or permitting procedures need to be followed. It is one thing to know that there are endangered species on or near a site, it’s a whole other thing to know what permits are required, and even better to know what next steps need to be taken to get the site developed.
Simply having a better understanding of the site’s characteristics and the regulations and permits that are triggered by them at the national, state, and local level is typically a huge step up from most solar developer’s current site evaluation techniques, which often do not consider regulations and permits. All of this allows the solar developer to make quicker and smarter decisions to turn their focus on the sites with the least risk, while dropping the very risky sites before large temporal and financial investments are made.
3. Jumpstart site permitting with information on local solar laws
Lastly, Transect provides access to detailed information about local solar regulations, permitting, and approval processes. When solar developers find land within a municipality where they have never developed before, they have to educate themselves on the local laws. Some solar developers may even subcontract this work to environmental consulting firms or local laws firms. This can take time and be costly outsourced work but is important to understand as there may be municipalities that have very strict solar regulations that cause long project delays. By using Transect Reports + Marketplace, users can connect with cost-effective, specialized resources that provide local permit and zoning requirements, in addition to slope calculations and other environmental due diligence services.
While it is understood that solar developers each have their own unique development strategy, Transect’s Vision and Report tools can help achieve a common goal amongst all solar developers which is, quite frankly, to save time and money. The soft costs related to solar development are often the largest piece in the overall project. Transect is a reliable resource that will reduce those costs and allow the project to proceed in confidence.
See Transect in action on one of your solar sites – get your first report free here!