Select Solar Developers are Focusing on Community Development and Sharing Benefits
Incorporating community benefits into the planning process is an increasingly important part of a sustainable solar development.
As the solar age comes out of its startup stages and into maturity, the great work to build a renewable energy future has begun in earnest. No longer limited to a few leading communities here and there, substantial solar development is beginning to take place across the country. Communities everywhere are facing up to the opportunities renewable energy can offer and learning how to overcome obstacles in the way to maximizing community benefit.
The key to securing significant community benefits in a solar development, or any real estate development, is the developer. No two developers are alike and not every developer is oriented towards giving strong consideration to a community’s needs beyond the framework of the solar development itself, especially large, utility-scale developers.
But integrating ways to bring tangible benefits to local communities is central to the approach of some solar developers, including Caden Energy (Caden). As a forward thinking utility-scale renewable energy developer, Caden provides energy reliability and resilience to the communities it serves. These communities are crucial in Caden’s project planning and practice. For each potential project location, Caden’s team members identify the local development priorities and align them with project goals – creating a win-win situation for all those involved.
As operating lives of utility-scale energy facilities runs at least a few decades, it is important to ensure that the local communities recognize and embrace them as an asset with tangible benefits in the short- and long-term. When Caden’s business first began and it started looking for development opportunities, it started with community benefit in mind.
Seizing opportunities to give communities a boost when it can is a core principle Caden continues.
In Arizona, for example, Caden discovered that the state was challenged by inadequate school funding. Ranked 45th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the “Education Week” rankings for 2018, Arizona had thousands of public school teachers walk out for a week to call attention to funding shortfalls.
With this in mind, Caden made a conscious decision to identify development opportunities on only those sites that were fully owned by the Arizona State Land Department (ASLD), rather than private or Federally managed land. In discussing the terms of the land lease, Caden made sure that the land parcels would immediately benefit Arizona Public Schools. The land lease payments for the three projects Caden is developing on ASLD’s properties – named EnergyOne, EnergyTwo, and EnergyThree – will go directly to Arizona’s K-12 public school and teacher funding, rather than the State Treasury where funds get diluted into other non-K-12 areas. This makes public education the direct beneficiary for all three project sites: EnergyOne, EnergyTwo and EnergyThree.
Over the life of the three projects, the combined payments to schools will total tens of millions of dollars.
In Chesapeake, Virginia, where Caden is developing a utility-scale solar energy project, the community has worked hard for many years to preserve its natural open spaces, rural character, and agricultural lands. In 2003, the City Council created the Open Space and Agricultural Preservation (OSAP) Program, a voluntary program where willing landowners are given the option to sell their development rights to the City in exchange for a preservation easement. Every community has different priorities and, for Chesapeake, preserving its brilliant natural beauty is foremost.
Understanding this, Caden is contributing $50,000 a year to Chesapeake’s OSAP Program in order to offset the use of 154 acres of existing farmland for its solar project there. The contribution will support the city to continue its efforts to protect open spaces, and lead to wildlife protection, stormwater and water quality management, while sustaining family farms as part of the local economy and promoting outdoor recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.
Caden is proving that people, profit and planet can all win when it comes to solar development. It is possible to produce sustainable solar power and generate benefits in local communities beyond green power. Whether direct financial benefit or indirect contribution, solar power is building a brighter future for our communities, while simultaneously helping reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
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According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), a Brightfield is an abandoned or contaminated property that is redeveloped through the incorporation of solar energy, which can be many different types of solar applications including photovoltaic arrays. Brightfield development leads to economic development, environmental cleanup and improved air quality by bringing pollution free solar energy and high tech manufacturing jobs to brownfield sites. A Brightfield's current or desired use is for solar energy production, or it has been professionally designated as suitable for use as a productive solar site; typically verified by one or more third-party reports. Ready Brightfields have some, if not all, utility infrastructure already in place or may simply be near utility lines amenable to solar power distribution. Use the Brightfield tag on BL as one of the many tags in our handy Taxonomy to post any kind of property, project, RFP, RFQ or RFI or planning effort where the solar is relevant.