We generally associate solar power with environmental responsibility, care, and stewardship. However, the solar industry is now a huge industry. There are a lot of people and even entire companies that are in the industry simply because it’s good business.
While solar will always be a more environmentally friendly choice than coal or natural gas, it can still do plenty of harm. That’s why it’s really uplifting to see solar companies that really do what they can to protect the environment. First Solar, a 2015 Zayed Future Energy Prize finalist, seems to be one of those companies.
The Topaz Solar Farm, one of the largest solar PV projects in the world, is just being completed. Rumor is that it is now fully online. With 550 megawatts of capacity, it is expected to produce enough electricity for 160,000 California homes. In January, First Solar wrote an article about its environmental stewardship at the site that I just came across. It notes that First Solar employees at the solar farm get trained on the biology, habitat needs, and status of endangered species at the location. Methods are also taken to protect threatened and endangered species.
In the photo below, you can see what occurred every morning on the site during construction: biologists touring the site and setting up protective enclosures for sensitive species found there before any construction begins.
The article starts out: “Responsible land use and biodiversity protection are the cornerstone of one of First Solar’s core values: “Environmental Responsibility.” By building and operating environmentally friendly PV power plants, First Solar helps protect endangered animal and plant species while generating clean electricity that will contribute to the grid for 25 or more years. As part of our commitment to building and operating PV facilities that benefit the environment and communities around the world, First Solar engages with local stakeholders and strives to minimize environmental impacts by implementing responsible land use practices including soil preparation techniques, biodiversity monitoring, and land conservation.
“The 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farms, constructed by First Solar and owned by MidAmerican Solar, provide a leading example of how responsibly-developed utility-scale PV power plants can minimize impacts and help protect biodiversity. The Topaz Solar Farms are carefully sited on previously disturbed farmland in the Carrizo Plain of San Luis Obispo County - one of the sunniest locations in California. At Topaz, First Solar is currently testing a “light-on-land” soil preparation technique which includes mowing existing vegetation while leaving the root structure in place to help prevent erosion and discharge of silt from storm runoff in accordance with U.S. EPA regulations. In addition to being more beneficial to grasses and other species, mowing reduces soil disturbance, dust, and dust borne pathogens, uses less water, and enables faster land preparation. ”
For more information on the steps First Solar has taken on this project, and some of the things it incorporates into other projects, read the whole First Solar article.