Solar Array at Brookhaven National Laboratory

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Solar Array at Brookhaven National Laboratory JavaGAR 3/8/11 5:58 AM
BP is constructing a photovoltaic solar array on the grounds of Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. The project is expected to generate 32 megawatts of power, which would provide enough renewable energy in the form of electricity for thousands of homes. But, as is the case with large projects, even "green" ones such as this, environmental effects must be considered.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is located in the Long Island Pine Barrens. For information about this area, see Google Earth Community: Long Island Pine Barrens.

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Map of the proposed locations for the solar arrays.
Map image from Environmental Assessment for BP Solar Array Project, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, New York (pdf).

BP has provided the following overview facts concerning the project at BP: New Project Developments: Long Island Solar Project:
Solar Project Overview

Approximately 32 megawatts (MW) of solar energy is proposed to be hosted by Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), purchased by Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and supplied and developed by BP Solar. This utility-scale solar energy project will provide enough power to sustain more than 4,500 households and avoid carbon dioxide emissions of 34,000 tons per year. The project will be implemented through a power purchase agreement (PPA) between LIPA and BP for a term of 20 years with contracted solar energy deliveries to begin no later than mid-2011.

Project Facts:

Size: Approximately 32 MW of electricity generated by solar electric panels

Location: Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY

Land use: Approximately 195 acres

Construction schedule: Project to begin no later than mid-2011

Workforce: An estimated 200 full-time jobs to be created during peak construction with two full-time operations and maintenance oversight managers after system commencement

The 32 MW of power cited here is lower than the 37 MW cited in the Environmental Assessment cited above. The following is from that document:
If constructed, the proposed BP Solar Project would be located on approximately 200 acres and would encompass two large-scale commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays totaling approximately 37 MW, and potentially a smaller Laboratory dedicated array of 1 to 2 MW, with an associated support building. This project grew out of solicitation by the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to diversify its portfolio with renewable energy sources. LIPA publically solicited companies for proposals to provide solar-generated power on Long Island. In that solicitation, DOE offered BNL property as a host site for a project that would meet LIPA’s needs. BP Solar’s successful proposal to LIPA for a 37 MW photovoltaic system on the federal property resulted in negotiations between DOE and BP Solar for access to the site for construction and operation of the system. The project supports DOE’s renewable portfolio and the Department’s vital goals of reducing dependence on fossil fuels and encouraging research and development in energy technologies. Additionally, this proposed solar project is consistent with NY State’s goal to meet 45 percent of its electricity needs through improved energy efficiency and renewable sources by the year 2015.

Summary of BP Solar Project estimated parameters:

• Total generation capability of 37 MW direct current (DC) - Solar arrays would consist of approximately 167,712 PV modules, each about 5.5 x 3.3 x 0.016 feet (1,667 x 1,000 x 50mm), weighing 43 pounds (lbs) (19.4kg), and having a standard rating of 220 watts.

• Estimated annual output of 1,200 Megawatt hours (MWH) per MW PV, for a total of 44,400 MHW per year.

• Two-500 kilowatt (kW) inverters and a 1-mega volt-amps (MVA) 200/13.8 kilovolt (kV) transformer would be located on each of thirty two 270-square foot (25 square meters) concrete equipment pads located throughout the arrays.

• A 15kV outdoor, metal-clad, switchgear, which is to be shelter-aisle or enclosed in an equipment building with a concrete pad of approximately 250 square foot (23 square meters).

• A 13.8/69 kV transformer, mounted on a 2,500-square foot (232 square meters) concrete pad, mounted on a pad with associated circuit breakers, disconnect switches, and a small (12’ x 24’) control enclosure on nearby pads all totaling 2000-square foot (186 square meters), would connect the solar array facility via transmission line to the LIPA substation located adjacent to the BNL property, south of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) tracks.

• Fencing would enclose solar arrays and associated equipment.

• Laboratory - dedicated 1 to 2 MW solar arrays.

• Laboratory - dedicated array support building about 2,000 square feet (186 square meters).

Concerning impacts on ecological resources, the Environmental Assessment provides the following:
Construction Effects on Vegetation - Disturbance of about 200 acres of land, including removal of approximately 153 acres of trees - Minimal grading and topsoil replacement would allow most understory plants to recover; native grasses or understory vegetation would also be planted. Removal of existing invasive plant species would, at minimum, slow their expansion (into adjacent wetlands, in particular).

Construction Effects on Threatened, Endangered, and Special Concern Species – Project would meet NYSDEC protocols for tiger salamander breeding habitat. May have minimal impacts on the eastern tiger salamander beyond the 1,000 foot (304.8 meters) protection zones around known habitats. Established buffers and procedures should minimize impacts to tiger salamanders and other amphibians; temporary impacts on eastern box turtles due to construction disturbance. Fencing design may allow movement of reptiles throughout the entire area; mature forest removal would force nesting raptors to move to other suitable habitat. Overall, construction would have a minimal impact on threatened, endangered, and special concern species

Operation Effects on Threatened, Endangered, and Special Concern Species - Planting native understory may increase numbers of host plants for rare butterflies; fencing would prevent entry of deer allowing understory vegetation to mature and seed, providing improved habitat for many threatened and endangered species.

Construction Effects on Migratory Birds - Tree clearing and temporary understory vegetation disturbance would have a moderate effect on migratory songbirds and raptors; construction noise may disturb nesting birds; tree removal in late summer would result in some nest destruction. Timing forest clearing can minimize direct impacts; while clearing would remove available habitat, it affects 4.2% of the available habitat on the BNL site and 95.8% of available habitat remains unaffected; removal of existing fences and open areas would temporarily affect eastern blue bird nest boxes. Nest boxes can be installed on new fencing.

Operation Effects on Migratory Birds - Slight effects on migratory birds due to increased edge habitat, improved deer-free understory, and increased fence lines for placement of nest boxes. Increased edge habitat may result in slight increases in the number of brown-headed cowbirds parasitizing songbird nests.

Construction Effects on Mammals - Tree removal would result in mammals dispersing to surrounding forests; displaced deer would cause added stress on surrounding forests, primarily due to existing over abundance; other medium sized animals would be displaced with little effect on their populations.

Operation Effects on Mammals - Minor positive effects on small and medium sized mammals due to fences keeping deer out of the area and improved understory.

Construction Effects on Reptiles and Amphibians - Minimal impacts on reptiles and amphibians due to construction equipment and loss of forage and mating habitat. Minimizing understory vegetation disturbance would lessen impacts.

Operation Effects on Reptiles and Amphibians - Slight improvements for reptile and amphibian species due to increased habitat for mole salamanders, tree frogs, snakes; maintaining habitat for turtles should result from increased
understory. Proposed fencing would support movement of small animals including reptiles and amphibians.

Construction Effects on Pine Barrens - Clearing approximately 153 acres (62 hectares) of trees would have minimal impact on the overall quality of the Central Pine Barrens ecosystem; the proposed project is fully within the Compatible Growth Area on the BNL site and falls well within the 65% clearing standard established under the Central Pine Barrens Land Use Plan.

Operation Effects on Pine Barrens - Little, if any, overall effect on the surrounding Pine Barrens; precipitation recharge to groundwater would not be affected due to use of native vegetation underneath the solar arrays and
minimal impermeable surfaces.

The study also considered alternatives regarding the placement of the arrays on the BNL grounds.

Alexander R. Wick and Dr. Tim Green conducted a study designed to establish a baseline for monitoring the effects of the solar array on the local pine barrens ecosystem.
From their study (pdf), entitled Effect of Ambient Light Levels on Understory Composition in a Pine Barrens Ecosystem at Brookhaven National Laboratory's Proposed Solar Array; Establishing a Baseline for Future Studies:
Energy generation technologies that have less impact on our environment are an important step in America’s drive towards sustainable energy independence. To this end, Brookhaven National Laboratory has partnered with BP Solar to install a 200-acre, 35 megawatt, solar panel array on site at BNL. The installation of this large an array gives us a unique opportunity to study how a solar array affects the existing vegetation. Several changes, including deer proof fencing around the entire array, changes in the light and changes in water distribution are among the myriad changes which will occur.

The understory is mostly made up of the plant family Ericaceae (heath family). Members of this family, including Vaccinium prefer acidic soils and partial shade. The mixed pine/oak forest of the central Long Island pine barrens provides an excellent habitat for these species, including plentiful members of the genus Vaccinium and Gaylussacia, comprising most of the understory. The lowbushblueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium et al.
spp.), the highbushblueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), and the huckleberry (Gaylussacia spp.) are the primary understory vegetation in much of the proposed solar array area.

Not everyone is happy with this project, due to effects that they believe it may have on the natural pine barrens environment or on the drinking water supply in the underlying aquifers. From Noth Shore Sun: Mixed response as contractors chop down trees for solar plant at BNL:
BP contractors began chopping down the first of 42,000 trees at Brookhaven National Lab in Yaphank this month to make room for a solar energy farm, drawing mixed reaction from environmentalists, some of whom insist any such projects should be built on already developed land.

The Pine Barrens is the habitat for the greatest diversity of plant and animal species in the state, and provides a recharge for the purest drinking water on Long Island, environmentalists contend.

Pine Barrens Society executive director Dick Amper said this project will have a significant impact on the ecosystem, particularly the bird habitat.

“This arrangement cost us the benefit of the woods, in our opinion, unnecessarily,” Mr. Amper said.

He noted that solar energy farms are important for our environmental future, but said previously cleared land would be a more appropriate site.

Brookhaven National Lab was chosen as the site for the farm because of its proximity to a LIPA substation and the benefit derived from the research and development to be conducted by the lab, said BP spokesman Pete Resler.

“Brookhaven is a very good site for this project,” he said. “The benefit of putting solar on that property far outweighs the carbon sequestration benefit of trees being removed. It’s better for climate change.”

LIPA and Brookhaven lab officials also say the solar farm will actually reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere much more effectively than the trees would. Generating electricity from solar cells will prevent 30,950 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, while the trees would prevent just a fraction of that — 842 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.

But Mr. Amper scoffed at the comparison, saying people should be reaping the benefits of both solar energy and the forest.

“Environmentally, we shouldn’t be choosing between building a green energy plant and letting the forest do its job,” Mr. Amper said. “We should build clean energy farms where they don’t have to remove trees.”

He noted that the trees are also home to a wide variety of species that will be disturbed. He said the trees have been doing a good job of removing carbon dioxide for the past 12,000 years and said the clean-energy farm should not be created at the trees’ expense.

“We need to produce cleaner electricity and we need to keep our forests intact to eliminate carbon dioxide,” he said. “You don’t trade one for the other.”

The attached KMZ file provides polygons outlining solar array sites traced from an overlay of the map (Figure 3) from the Environmental Assessment cited above.

See also:
NREL: Solar Research
Wikipedia: Photovoltaics
Brookhaven National Laboratory
Google Earth Community: Solar Power Plant Proposed for Chicago
Google Earth Community: Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center
Best Regards,