Developing utility-scale solar requires a plethora of preparations, from easements and county permits to coordinating interconnection and establishing renewable energy credits. Renewable energy adaptation, a developer based in Oakland, California, is no stranger to large-scale solar, having worked on solar projects across the country. But the veteran contractor learned firsthand the importance of preparation after acquiring an under-development portfolio of solar projects in Western Oregon in 2019.
Adapture welcomes a challenge, but meeting the remaining development requirements of 10 single-customer arrays in uncharted territory was a new prospect for the company. The acquired portfolio comprised 10 projects to be developed totaling 31 MW, with an average of 3 MW per site.
“Of course, speaking of utility-scale solar, our preference would be to build a 100-MWDC site because you do it once,” said Don Miller, COO and general advisor at Adapture Renewables. “If you do it ten times, you’re kind of a glutton. It’s like taking on a challenge because you potentially have 10 different hosts. In this case, the great thing about this was that we had one customer, one interconnecting utility.”
That one customer was Portland General Electric, which supplies electricity to nearly half of Oregon and was eager for the project to be completed. Once acquired by Adapture, the project portfolio was estimated to contain an additional six months of development work before moving on to construction.
“We had to make sure that [Portland General Electric’s] While we were designing our system, upgrades were also taking place,” said Goran Arya, director of business development, Adapture Renewables. “And basically we make sure we coincide with when they can accept our power and when we plan to be able to export our power as well.”
Back then, working with 10 different landowners meant dealing with 10 different personalities. Adapture’s development team had to secure land rights on all 10 sites for 35 years after acquiring the previous developer’s portfolio.
“We have a very long view of things — over 35 years,” Miller said. “So, in some cases, when we do the due diligence for projects that we’re looking for, do we have control over the location during that time? Sometimes an original developer takes care of some projects but not all, so in that case we have to go back and renegotiate with the landlord – get a little extra extension so we can exercise options for those 35 years.”
Nearly all 10 projects had special use permits, but were spread across five different provinces, some across provincial boundaries. The arrays are located in Oregon City (3.12 MW), Molalla (3.54 MW), Salem (1.44 MW), Willamina (3.65 MW), Aurora (2.56 MW), Sheridan (3, 45 MW), Bore (3.04 MW), Woodburn (3.44 MW), Forest Grove (3.48 MW) and Silverton (3.45 MW).
Juggling 10 locations
Once the interconnection deals and funding were finalized, Adapture sent its building inspectors to Portland to hire local workers to build the arrays. The company prefers to use local labor because of its familiarity with the landscape. This minimizes the number of people Adapture sends to job boards and saves on travel costs and time required for onboarding. Then project managers oversee construction and bounce between projects.
Multiple surveyors, civil and electrical contractors were brought in to meet the needs of each project. Some sites had natural features such as creeks and trees that required additional design and civil considerations.
While several projects were under construction at the same time, Morgan Zinger, senior project manager at Adapture Renewables, visited multiple sites each day to ensure design plans were followed.
“When you’re going into a portfolio like that, you really have to see it as one group,” Zinger said. “It’s like you can’t take your foot off the gas until they’re all done.”
Mother Nature intervenes
Working in construction in 2020 on the West Coast brought many challenges.
For starters, the installation happened during the pandemic, which required social distancing, decontamination and additional security measures. In addition, Oregon has an annual rainy season from November to March, with 164 days of rain in 2020 in the Portland area alone.
“It’s very hard to do groundwork when it’s wet outside,” Zinger said. “You could try to build a row and you just keep compacting it and it just compacts more and you have to add more gravel and it just keeps going. It can get so wet you don’t get to the compaction number you’re trying to get [reach].”
Installers had to focus on groundwork such as foundations during the drier months. Across the board, construction halted in one province from November to March, affecting two solar sites.
The team not only endured the wet season, but also faced unprecedented wildfires.
In late 2020, a cluster of fires burned as far north as Oregon City, where one of the projects in Adapture’s portfolio was located. Four thousand homes and 1.07 million acres of land in Oregon were destroyed by the 2020 wildfires.
Despite the delays due to a natural disaster, ongoing inclement weather and a global pandemic, Adapture brought its 10th and final solar project online in February 2021. fixed tilting APA Solar Racking and Sungrow inverters.
Adapture completed 17 projects last year, 10 of which were from the Western Oregon portfolio.
“It takes full organizational involvement, so we had everyone involved in these projects to make sure people were involved at the right time,” Arya said. “And I think what we learned, and we were hired later in the process, brought people in earlier than we normally would, just to make sure they’re involved and they can address those concerns early on.” tackle.”
While familiar with multi-project portfolios, Adapture hopes to move towards developing primarily larger single projects — megawatt projects the size of the entire Western Oregon portfolio.