Cobalt Solar Farm Project Expected to Begin Construction in Spring 2024
(Above photo: From left to right: Cypress Creek Renewables Representatives – Marcelo Lando, Director of Project Execution; Parker Sloan, Senior Community & Economic Development Manager; and Aaron Steely, Senior Project Developer. Photos by Adrian Weber.)
“We don’t have an exact date for construction start, but it should be in the second half of March 2024, and in service [operation] by the end of September 2024,” Aaron Steely told exploreClarion.com.
Steely is the Senior Project Developer for Cypress Creek Renewable–one of the country’s largest renewables developers and independent power producers based in North Carolina and California; the company develops, builds, owns, and operates solar farms and other energy storage projects across the United States.
As of the last report on exploreClarion.com, an NPDES permit (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) was being reviewed by the conservation district and DEP for approval.
Since that time, approval for that permit has been granted.
Other than a few outstanding permits that Cypress still needs in the county, Steely optimistically looks forward to construction.
“We currently have just about all the permits that we need to begin construction,” Steely explained.
(Pictured above: Lake Lucy Road street sign in Washington Township.)
Marcelo Lando, Cypress Creek Renewables Director of Project Execution, is overseeing the project from late-stage development.
His first step in the construction process will include “grading the land and doing the internal roads, then doing the structures where the modules will actually sit.” He said this process is “relatively easy.”
Lando explains that concrete platforms don’t need to be built in order to go forward in that construction.
Senior Community & Economic Development Manager at Cypress Creek Renewables Parker Sloan added that “everything is designed through the manufacturing process, as well as the construction process, to be temporary in nature. Nothing truly permanent on the ground.”
According to Steely, Project Cobalt has an expected life of 40 years.
“A typical lease will have a 30-year operating period where panels are producing energy, and then two five-year extensions where the company will have the option to walk away and decommission the site or extend the operating period,” Steely said.
After those extension periods, it’s up to the company and the landowners to renegotiate the lease for another term of production or to start the site decommissioning process.
Decommissioning costs, which is the cost “for returning the property back to similar conditions as it was before (the) construction of the solar field, will be approximately $1,000,000 for Cobalt,” Steely added.
According to Lando, the sites typically don’t get easily decommissioned because “there’s a lot of value in continuing to use what is already built.”
Steely added, “Even if you’re operating at 70 or 80 percent capacity, even if those panels have degraded, it is still going to be worth it to continue use.”
In addition to lease contracts with property owners, the warranties on the panels themselves are taken into account when calculating the lifespan of a project.
“We have a 30-year warranty on our panels that we are using for these projects in northwestern Pennsylvania. That warranty means that during those 30 years, the panels will stay above 80% efficiency, and if not, they will be replaced,” Steely explained.
What happens (recycle, reuse, or landfill) to the equipment and materials after a project has been decommissioned?
Sloan explained that “as the volume of solar farms grows across the country and the world, the critical mass will start to necessitate a bigger and bigger recycling program for that equipment.
“By volume, you’re talking mostly steel and aluminum, and the modules themselves are mostly glass and aluminum, which are all easily recyclable materials. It’s just a matter of creating all the processes and business models for that.”
Project Cobalt will be a 20-megawatt facility, which is enough power to support about 3,500 homes, according to the Cypress Creek representatives.
Steely said where that solar power will be used is a difficult question to answer.
“The electrons hit the grid, and they go wherever they go. We don’t really know where they go.”
“I would view it like water,” Sloan added.
“A distribution of water through a series of streams. If you pour water into a stream, it all comes together and flows downhill. You can think of that as analogous to a transmission line. As these electrons move ‘downstream.’ they’re used as there is need for power along that system.”
Sloan clarified that “the electrons will be used in the region, but the company (Cypress Creek) doesn’t trace them or know exactly where they go.”
Part of the reason the electrons’ use can’t be directly accounted for is the topic of Community Solar across Pennsylvania.
“Community Solar is not approved in Pa., yet. So, there’s no legal structure in Pa. for us to be able to sign up a bunch of homes and say that ‘this power is going directly to you,'” Steely said.
“It’s something that still is in the process in Pa., so if people want to contact their local representation and say: ‘Hey, we want community solar in western Pa.’–that’s awesome,” he continued.
In addition to Cobalt, Cypress has several projects in the works across western Pennsylvania, including one in Venango County, dubbed “Cardinal,” which was recently approved by the Venango County Regional Planning Commission for development in Cranberry Township.
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