Construction on the 150-megawatt South Cheyenne Solar Project has begun, and when complete, it will be the second utility-scale solar project in Wyoming.
Q Cells, the company behind the project, has completed the permitting process with the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council, as well as Laramie County.
While the project broke ground this spring as it had expected, there are a number of challenges that are impacting all renewable energy projects.
Demi Gastouniotis, development manager for Q Cells, gave a presentation on the solar project at the Next Frontier Energy Summit this month in Cheyenne.
The investment in solar in Wyoming has been small compared to California, Utah and Arizona, but the South Cheyenne Solar Project will double that investment, she said.
“There’s a lot of room for growth, and a lot of opportunity in the state,” Gastouniotis said.
Hurry Up And Wait
Despite that opportunity, Gastouniotis said there are challenges solar developers face in Wyoming.
“Some of the things that keep us up at night are finding suitable land for projects,” she said.
Solar projects have a much smaller footprint than wind projects, which makes them easier. The South Cheyenne Solar Project will cover 950 acres.
She’s said she’s been engaging landowners in the field. The problem isn’t convincing them to participate. The concern for landowners is ensuring the projects will actually be built.
“They don’t want to sit on leases for five years. They want to sit on them for one year, and they want us to be in construction within a few years,” Gastouniotis said.
The other issue is transmission connections. The South Cheyenne Solar Project will be connected by a 2.58-mile, 115 kilovolt interconnect transmission line that runs to a new substation owned by Black Hills Energy.
The project is entirely located on private- and state-leased land, which avoids issues that larger projects that require longer and larger transmission lines that cross federal land.
The TransWest project that will transport up to 3,000 megawatts of energy from the Sierra Madre and Chokecherry wind project took 15 years to permit and another five years to construct.
Gastouniotis said that staffing issues have also created challenges for projects, slowing permitting times. Agencies aren’t fully staffed.
“Those problems, ultimately, they trickle down into problems and delay projects,” she said.
Supply chain issues also are hitting the renewable energy market, but Gastouniotis said the company has a lot of domestic resources that has allowed it to avoid a lot of that issue. Lead times on transmission and substation infrastructure, however, is an issue.
“If you're not ordering your main power transformers pretty much the day you sign a lease, you're setting yourself back here,” Gastouniotis said.
In a Subtack article titled “Untransformed,” energy expert Robert Bryce reports that the transformer shortage is being driven by the push for electric vehicles and renewables. Lead times on transformers are measured in years, Bryce reported, and industry experts see no end to the problem.
Contractor availability also is a challenge, Gastouniotis said.
“Our emergency services are booked out for the rest of the year and into 2024,” she said. “So developers are having to think earlier and earlier on how quickly and how much risk we can take on early in the process so that we don’t run into issues down the line.”
Gastouniotis said supports for solar panels at the South Cheyenne site will begin arriving within the next month, and the panels will arrive in June.
“So lots of activity if you drive south on [Highway] 85 and past the site,” she said.
Once completed, the solar farm is estimated to bring in $23 million in property taxes over its lifetime.
It will create more than 100 construction jobs and one full-time job when complete.
The project is expected to be online before the end of the year.
Contact Kevin Killough at Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com