Facility Location and Placement

The selection of the facility location and placement on the project site are arguably the most important decisions that a developer makes during the planning process. The location and placement of the infrastructure on the project site will directly determine the type and intensity of the site-level ecological impacts discussed above. Over the course of nine interviews, we established that developers generally look for three key characteristics when selecting a project site: distance to transmission, slope of the land, and the availability of water.

  1. Distance to Transmission: Distance to transmission is one of the most important considerations. Without transmission infrastructure, the developer has no way to get the electricity from the facility to the nearby towns and cities. Transmission infrastructure is extremely costly to construct, making locations with nearby transmission lines extremely desirable to developers as it keeps the construction costs down.
  2. Slope of the Land: Each technology type has its own range of slopes that it can tolerate. Developers prefer level areas since it reduces the overall amount of grading that will need to be performed, and therefore can reduce the construction cost.
  3. Water Availability: Water availability is a greater concern for CSP systems than for PV systems, but nonetheless PV systems do still need water for panel washing. Developers indicated that the wastewater could be piped in from a local municipality, assuming they could provide enough wastewater to meet the facilities needs, or could be pumped from underground wells. However, if neither of these options are available, then a developer will be forced to have water trucked in and stored on site. This process ultimately is more costly since it requires additional water storage infrastructure to be built, contractual agreements with a delivery company, and potentially hiring additional employees. Moreover, the trucking in of water requires the use of more energy in the form of gas or diesel and also includes the associated carbon dioxide emissions. This is an unfortunate side effect, especially for a renewable energy facility that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Many developers select the facility location based on these three criteria, and the potential ecological implications of facility siting may not necessarily play a significant role in the initial siting decision. However, the location and layout of the facility will have considerable implications for the overall ecological impacts of the facility. These effects will range in type and intensity based on the specific ecological conditions of the projects site. These impacts are discussed further below, and a spatial analysis of ecological impacts using GIS modeling can be found in the Spatial Analysis section.