Bull dozed on site vegetation piled and burning. (Photo by Bill Frazer)
LaFayette Solar Farm reality
To be candid, I was skeptical that the Solar Farm would ever materialize. Boy was I wrong! I just drove down the Cusseta Road and south of the bypass was amazed at the activity. On both sides of the county road near Forestry 21 Equipment were acres of cleared ground although the work just started less than a week ago. As far as you could see from the road, there were bulldozers, back hoes, stump grinders, root rakes and other land clearing equipment.
I met with the project foreman, David Dzeima, who was very cooperative in telling me about the operation. IRONWOOD (based in Minnesota) is the clearing sub contractor with SWINERTON RENEWABLE ENERBY (based in California) the major contractor for the whole operation including installation of solar panels. Swinerton Renewable Energy has set up an office on site located on the south city limits of LaFayette to coordinate the operation.
It is obvious that this is not the “first rodeo” for this company. They have brought truck loads of needed equipment to the site. They are prepared to handle all phases of the operation as it is obvious as there are equipment repair trucks on site, welders, a host of 4-wheelers, generators and skilled personnel.
The company is familiar with all of the environmental regulations regarding clearing and management of the rolling topography. They have installed soil erosion fences all around the area so that the loose soil will not contaminate the streams. The company has even gone to extremes I have never seen before. They have built mud removers so that the traffic in and out of site would have to cross over before reentering the county roads. The solar acres will be grassed over as they are cleared to prevent erosion.
The Chambers County Court House records indicate that Torbert Family Farm Lands, LLC deeded AL SOLAR Farms A, LLC 1,100 acres as of February 2, 2017. Mr. Dzeima indicates that the solar panels will be installed on 1,000 acres of the purchase land and the remaining 100 acres will be in a streamside management zone.
The remaining merchantable timber was included in the purchase and SWINERTON RENEWABLE ENERGY is anxious to clear this acreage. The timber harvest on this acreage is currently under way. However, most of the acreage had been clearcut and replanted to improve pine.
Mr. Dzeima stated that the major contractor, SWINERTON will have around 50 employees on site. The contractor will need to hire an additional 250 local employees in order to meet the time frame goals for the project. The company will have job fairs in all the local towns in order to hire the personnel needed.
Present goals are to have the project completed by the end of the year. That is amazing as the site preparation is just the beginning of the projected work. Installing 950 solar panels to the acre means that 950,000 solar panels will be installed plus 950 inverters to convert the current from direct to alternating. In addition, power lines will have to be installed to carry the current generated to the grid network.
The project is scheduled to generate enough power annually to supply electricity to 2500 homes.
One of the facts that came to light was the fact that the solar panels are only guaranteed for 25 years, which means some time after the warranty expiration the panels will have to be replaced. However, it will not require an investment of $500,000 per acre which is original cost estimate. The site will already prepared along with all of the supporting technology will be in place.
There was one more fact that came to light when pondering the reality of this project. From my perspective as a “mower of lawns”, it will be a herculean task to mow and groom 1000 acres of grassland around thousands of solar panels. I resent having to maneuver around the swing set; can you imagine 950,000 of them?