Solar Farms: The Whole Town’s Talking

co-authored by Mike Hill

At ISS, we develop utility-scale solar farms, so we know each one brings lower, more stable electricity costs for consumers and a steady income for the landowner who leases the field.  We also understand people who lack firsthand experience with solar farms might have questions.    After all, this is the unknown, and unknowns can lead to uneasiness.  Will a solar farm create noise and destroy a neighbor’s quiet evening?  Do solar panels cause glare?  Will the soil be damaged?  We hear questions like these when counties and other local governments hold meetings and public hearings on our applications to build solar farms.  In fact, at a county-required Neighborhood Meeting we recently responded to questions from owners of properties near the site of one of our proposed solar farms in Colorado. Unfortunately, there are myths and misinformation about solar farms circulating on the internet and social media. However, the resulting fears can be put to rest with the help of real information from scientific studies and industry sources, and the news is good.

Noise is not an issue for neighbors of properly-designed solar farms. While inverters (used to convert electricity from DC to AC)  emit some low-level hum, they are usually located within the solar farm, well away from the perimeter. Their distance from adjoining properties and the shielding that is provided by the solar panels results in virtually no noise reaching the perimeter of the solar farm. At most, a person standing right at the edge of the solar farm might hear a faint hum, but usually neighbors hear nothing. Similarly, noise from tracking systems (which change the angle of the solar panels throughout the day, allowing them to follow the sun) is so slight that it is virtually imperceptible at the boundary of a solar farm.  The sounds from solar equipment will not compete with sounds coming from everyday life around the solar farm, especially if the surrounding land is farmed with tractors and other large equipment typically used in agriculture today.  Plus, it’s important to remember inverters don’t make any noise during the night since there’s no sunlight.

At our Neighborhood Meeting in Colorado, we were asked whether our solar farm would produce a lot of glare, and whether the property could ever be used again to grow crops. Our neighbors seemed happy to learn the facts.

With regard to potential glare, the first thing we do is clarify that our projects use photo-voltaic (“PV”) panels that generate electricity directly from the sunlight that falls on them. Our PV systems are very different from the concentrated solar power (CSP) systems that use fields of mirrors to reflect sunlight to a single point where it is focused to boil water, creating steam to spin a turbine generator to produce electricity. The glare issues associated with CSP systems don’t apply to PV systems like ours. Solar PV systems use dark, non-reflective solar panels that are designed to maximize the absorption of sunlight to enable the most efficient generation of electricity. Reflected sunlight (glare) represents a lost opportunity to generate more electricity, so naturally solar panel designers want to minimize it. Modern solar panels reflect as little as two percent of the sunlight falling on them. The fact that PV solar farms are now being installed on airport properties and military bases, where there is special concern for maintaining pilots’ vision, is probably the best indication that potential glare from solar farms has been successfully addressed.

Land that we use for our solar farms today can be returned to crop farming in the future, if desired. When the solar panels reach the end of their useful life (typically 30 to 40 years), they can be removed and recycled, along with the frames that hold them, the wiring, etc. After all of the solar farm components have been removed, if the old solar panels are not replaced with new ones, the land can be planted for agricultural crops again. PV solar panels are solid-state; they do not contain any liquids that could leak out onto the ground. The solar panels, the steel posts they are mounted on, and the wires that carry electricity from the solar panels and inverters to the sub-station, can all be removed, leaving the ground available to grow corn, wheat, soybeans or other crops again. So, using land for a solar farm today doesn’t mean that it can’t be used to grow crops in the future.

In our role as a utility-scale solar developer, ISS seeks to improve community life, not cause obstacles or concerns for residents.  With each new solar farm that’s developed, we take another step toward lessening dependence on power generation sources no longer yielding the lowest electricity costs for consumers and potentially causing health and environmental harm.  That is progress everyone can celebrate.  To learn more about our solar farm projects, please visit our website at www.innovativesolarsystemsllc.com or call 828-424-7884.