A session at PV America East today focused on breaking into niche solar markets, including sports, Native American communities and the military. A common question when facing the often complex processes associated with these installations is whether it’s worth it. The answer is, well, it’s complicated.
Elliot Hinds has 16 years of renewable energy development experience, including Native American solar development, a very nuanced market. “Solar is a niche market itself, right?” he asked attendees. “So we’re talking about the niche of the niche.”
The challenges for installations on native land include tribal interests, which are managed by layers of government – essentially what amounts to a sovereign nation, Hinds says. “It’s a very unusual mix of laws,” he says. For starters, there is a trustee relationship between the federal government, which manages the land, and the tribes. The use of the land has, in the past, required approval by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Such approval could often take years.
But tribal lands offer great potential. Hinds says the untapped land resources open to renewable energy production could provide 10% of the energy consumed by the United States.
“In the past year, the layers in the approval process have been relaxed,” Hinds says. “It’s important to know opportunity for these transaction are changing.” One way this has happened is through the HEARTH act, which allows for surface land leases with BIA approval. Other recent regulations require faster approval on part of the BIA – up to 60 days.
Jeffery Atkins, a partner at Foley and Lardner, grew up being a boy scout in the sunny desert, so he says he was excited to take on solar project deals as a lawyer. In over a decade, he’s been involved in over 3,000 MW of renewable energy deals. Today, he spoke at length about solar panels and sports.
Solar panels and batteries may have helped at the Super Bowl. They certainly procude power at many other stadiums including the Twins’ Target Field, the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium and the Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field, the latter of which has a solar array that provides more than enough power for non-game-day operation.
For the most part, these installations operate under a PPA agreement.
“It’s always interesting how big of a deal these always are, even when it’s half a megawatt,” Atkins says. He says the public relations firms representing these sports teams and field will roll out the executives, snap pictures and even promote solar-cooled beer. It’s great exposure for the solar companies that participated.
He listed some unique opportunities and issues when it comes to solar on sporting complexes:
- Land value
- On-site energy consumption
- Desire to be a good corporate citizen
- High profile for companies
- Future expansion or relocation
- Aesthetics (“These,” Atkins says, “are some of the hooks and have been the most influential in the sports space.”)
Dale Freudenberger is president of FLS Energy. He admits that many military projects have been small so far – up to 100 kW. But as his company looks to the future, they’re seeing growth in the size and frequency of projects, as the military becomes more comfortable with the technology and fluent in the process.
The key, he says, is doing PPA directly with the military.
Among some of the smaller project in which the company has participated (and lessons learned) include:
The Quantico Marine One hanger. This is a 100-kW project that ended up rising 2 inches too high, according to military standards, so the whole system needed taken down, cut 2 inches and rebuilt. The lesson: People can come from seemingly nowhere and demand changes.
A U.S. Coast Guard Station in Alameda, Caif. In a good sign, the whole approval process for this installation, albeit small, took less than 6 months. “It may be an indication of what’s to come,” Freudenberger says.
A carport at Fort Bragg. Originally intended to be over 1 MW, the system amounted to just 200 kW due to military uncertainty over the technology – even fears that it may catch on fire. But they’re getting used to it.