Over the last 10 years, the U.S. has experienced rapid growth in renewable energy production and now we’re channeling the latest technology and innovation to help us tap into the energy of the 4.6-billion-year-old sun to power us into the future.
Since 2008, U.S. installations of solar power projects have grown 35-fold to an estimated 62.5 gigawatts (GW) today, according to Energy.gov, enough energy to power 12 million American homes. As the cost of panel and electrical components continues to decrease while the demand for renewable energy sources increases, solar power is becoming more competitive with traditional energy sources, leading to an increased investment in this market.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), nearly 250,000 Americans work in the solar market and around $18 billion has been invested into the American economy from the solar market in 2019. Not only are U.S. jobs being created to manufacture solar components, but the jobs that are created to build solar power installations are boosting communities throughout the United States, for instance in Green Township, Ohio where the Hillcrest Solar project is under construction.
Midwest solar power
Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. (Innergex) and PCL Construction Services Inc. (PCL) are partnering to build the Hillcrest Solar project which broke ground in January 2020 and has a scheduled commercial operation date of December 2020. The project will consist of a field with solar arrays of more than 600,000 photovoltaic solar panels arranged in rows on single-axis tracking foundations, for an estimated first year power generation of just over 413,300 megawatt hours.
The Hillcrest facility is being built on land owned by 36 landowners who will receive compensation for the use of their land over the next 35 years. In addition to landowner payments, the project will provide additional economic benefits to the surrounding communities through payments in lieu of property taxes and construction wages. Project payments in lieu of property taxes are estimated to contribute more than $60 million to Brown County, Western Brown School District and Green Township during the project’s lifespan (based on $1.8 million paid annually over 35 years).
The Hillcrest Solar project is also expected to create approximately 300 construction jobs and contribute $69 million in local wages.
The Hillcrest solar facility is PCL’s first project with Innergex, however the PCL team has experience in completing solar projects throughout Canada and the U.S. With the recent Covid-19 pandemic affecting every state and industry, project plans had to be adjusted and re-examined and innovation went into ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all workers on site, including limiting the number of workers in one area along with utilizing alternate transportation to and from the site. Increased health and safety guidelines were put into place to ensure minimal impact to the project’s schedule.
Along with schedule and safety innovation, PCL partners with local subtrades and employment agencies to hire a local workforce which has also been present throughout the pandemic. PCL’s team has a goal of utilizing a minimum of 80% local Ohio labor to build the project and implemented detailed plans to ensure the goal is met.
Solar projects like Hillcrest are often built in rural areas with county roads that are not well-suited to allow for large semitrailers and tractors to pass through due to structural strength, turning radius and potential seasonal flooding. For this challenge, the project team utilized internal site access roads to mitigate damage to the local county roadways and to cause minimal disturbance to the rural areas they’re working in.
PCL is a group of independent construction companies that carries out work across the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Australia. These diverse operations in the civil infrastructure, heavy industrial, and buildings markets are supported by a strategic presence in 31 major centers.