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Engineers Week: Solar Farms in Snowy Upstate NY? Our Engineers Make It Possible

February 22, 2017

It's National Engineers Week!  Engineer’s week highlights the impact engineers have on our world and these recently completed projects are two great examples.

 

 

Harford Solar Farm and Musgrave Solar Farm

 

 

Harford Solar Farm (Dryden, NY) and Musgrave Solar Farm (Aurora, NY) began service at the end of 2016.  The farms mark the second and third photovoltaic projects completed with Schuler-Haas Electric for Cornell University.   

 

The statistics are impressive: Musgrave generates 4.0 megawatts across its 28 acre site.  The farm includes 18,000 solar panels encompassing over 360,000 square feet of generating surface.  Harford is a 14 acre site generating 2.0 megawatts from 9,000 solar panels.

 

The power generated by the plants is routed through inverters, which collect and convert the DC power from the solar panels to AC power, which is then stepped-up to the utility distribution voltage and injected onto the local utility grid.   The power is metered at the point of connection with the grid, and the power recorded is used to offset Cornell's electricity costs.  Altogether, LaBella has designed over 8 megawatts of distributed solar generation for Cornell, bringing the campus another step closer to its goal of being carbon neutral.

 

Both plants will ultimately be owned and operated by Building Energy, and original project site plan approval was performed by LaBella in conjunction with Distributed Sun.

Several years ago, I would have agreed that solar power generation in New York State does not make financial sense.  I had heard many variants of the phrases  “The sun only shines three weeks out of the year” and “the panels will be under snow half the time”, and that logic was hard to dispute.  

 

Fast forward a few years, and we now have several megawatts of successful solar projects behind us.  If all of the indicators are correct, we may design ten times that this year alone.  When I am questioned now if these projects are viable in New York State, I can comfortably say “Yes, they are”.  Over the last few years, these projects have become more efficient, more compact, and less impactful to the existing conditions on a site.  The equipment costs have dropped dramatically, and state subsidies are far less of a factor in the overall economic model.  And yes, the snow quickly melts off the black panel surface.

 

Since the spring of 2015, approximately 1,000 MW of commercial solar generation has been put into service in New York State, and overall the state is getting approximately 25% of its electric energy from renewable resources now.  We are well on our way to reaching the Governor’s Energy Goals, which is that 50% of New York’s electricity is to be generated from renewable sources by the year 2030.

 

 

 

LaBella plays many roles in getting these projects off the ground.  In the exploratory phase, we do a lot of “desktop reviews” for solar developers.  This includes reviewing local ordinances in regards to allowing solar projects, identifying known wetlands in the area, reviewing publicly available topographic data, and reviewing the electrical distribution infrastructure in the area for likely capacity.  

 

Once a site is selected as viable to move forward into application phase, we prepare documents for local and utility approvals.  This typically includes civil and electrical site plans, as well as electrical one line diagrams of the proposed sites and the interconnection to the grid.  Civil and electrical engineers work closely together throughout the project to layout mounting structures, fencing and access roads, route cabling, and locate electrical equipment.  As the projects progress, we engage our environmental team for wetland delineation, our planning team for regulatory approval and SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) assistance, and our survey team to do detailed topographic, boundary, and stake-out work. 

 

LaBella's structural engineers guide the geotech process, and ultimately aide in the selection of a foundation type for the array, as well as preparing the final structural plan.  Depending on the utility interconnection requirements at a given site, our power systems team can also be involved for the medium to high voltage tie-in point of the generator plant.  These projects ultimately touch many of the disciplines in the company as they progress from screening to detailed design.  

 

I am proud to be part of a company that is playing such a large role in meeting this clean energy initiative.  LaBella’s work in the renewable energy sector, as well as our company’s focus on sustainable, energy efficient design is one piece of our overall commitment to the communities we serve.

 

 

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