Ryan Galeria, sPower’s VP of Solar Development, brought new information about solar panels and his company’s planning and installation processes to the Shelby County Commissioners meeting Tuesday.

“I’m mostly here to introduce our company, tell you a little about our process, answer your questions, and primarily to listen to people’s concerns,” he told the commissioners.

Galeria said the first step of installing a large-scale solar project is reaching out to the electrical company that owns the transmission lines, in this case Duke Energy, and submitting an interconnection request.

“We go to the utility, we say ‘hey, we’d like to put power on the grid,’ and they say ‘great, give us 10,000 bucks and we’ll get back to you in a couple months to tell you if it’s possible,’” he said. “And that’s essentially what we’ve done here.”

sPower filed the interconnection request in late June. Duke Energy is in the process of studying its transmission lines to see if they can handle a steady increase of energy from solar panels. Galeria expects Duke to have finished the study by December.

While Duke Energy is evaluating its transmission lines, sPower begins scouting to see if there is land available in the area for a solar panel plant.

Once they identify the site and get approval from Duke Energy, they will begin interconnecting with the transmission lines. Then they conduct a bunch of studies to determine all the concerns in the county, such as the solar ordinance, the wildlife and the landscape.

“We will pull together a comprehensive plan of what this facility will look like,” he said. “I expect this will take anywhere from six to eight months. So, if I worked at the fastest speed possible, the soonest that I could come back to this community, this commission, with a robust plan for your review and your comments, is six to eight months from now. So we’re talking probably the second quarter of next year.”

When Galeria returns with a plan, the community will have the opportunity to review it and make suggestions, which he said will have a big impact on the outcome of the project – for example, if the community says they don’t want panels on three sides of homes, then Galeria would try to find a way to make that happen.

Following the meeting, Galeria stepped outside with the Citizens Against Industrialized Solar Plants in Southwestern Shelby County to answer their questions and address their concerns.

Residents who form this protest group asked questions regarding property values, environmental concerns and why the company is choosing Shelby County.

Galeria said Shelby County was ideal because its Midwest location gets a lot of sunlight and there is a demand for electricity here.

Galeria also mentioned in the meeting that sPower provides information like other county solar ordinances to counties like Shelby County as they create or revise their solar ordinance.

“What I meant by that is that we’re happy to basically … provide information on how these facilities are built, what are the materials that are going into these facilities, you know, what’s the traffic like, what are the anticipated types of equipment to be used, what kind of noise is there associated with it, … whatever it may be,” he said. “We just want to educate these communities on what this process looks like.”

He added that he would like it to be as open to the public as possible, which is why he was willing to talk with the group for almost two hours following the meeting.

Group leader Kyle Barlow asked if Sean Cavanaugh still represented sPower, and Galeria didn’t know anything other than that he was a contractor sent out a few weeks ago. When the protestors told Galeria that Cavanaugh behaved unprofessionally, Galeria apologized for the poor impression.

The group then asked how many acres would be used. The rumor is that the plan will encompass 4,000 acres.

“Why is it rumored to be 4,000 acres?” Galeria asked.

That number comes from the acreage mapped out by Cavanaugh, to help him target where he would send letters of intent. Galeria said it would be half that size.

“I think we can say with relative certainty it’s somewhere around 1,500 to 2,000 acres, [which] would be the target size based on the interconnection request we filed,” Galeria said. “If [Duke] says ‘yes this is great, we have plenty of capacity,’ and we try to maintain the project size of 250 megawatts, we would seek to utilize about 1,800 acres.”

Galeria does not know how many acres sPower has already acquired, but he knows it’s not enough yet. He did say anyone who signed on can back out if they would like.

He also said the panels on the land do not have to be continuous. The electricity will follow the power lines.

Galeria said he didn’t yet know which types of solar panels would be installed in the county, and he didn’t know where the panels would come from, but sPower has contracts with Jinko Solar, Trina Solar and First Solar, so the panels would most likely be from one of those three companies.

He also said three-fourths of the panels that sPower installs use Silicon Solar Cells, so those are most likely the ones that will be installed here, if the planning process gets to that point. Silicon panels do not include toxic materials like Cadmium Telluride, Galeria said.

And on the topic of toxicity, Galeria assured the opposition that solar panels did not produce toxic GenX chemicals. This means that the materials would not pollute the soil or the water supply.

Galeria did say that the plant would be monitored completely remotely by employees out of Salt Lake City, Utah, where sPower’s headquarters is located. The installation of a plant in Shelby County will not create new local jobs.

“So if there’s a problem, who’s gonna take care of it? Like a fire or something?” one protestor asked.

“From the dispatch center, from our control room – it’s a federally-regulated control room in Salt Lake City – if there’s a fire, it can be detected and the whole system can be shut down remotely,” Galeria answered. “The actual maintenance technicians get dispatched from our regional areas, which is usually about an hour drive.”

But Galeria also said there wasn’t a regional facility in this area.

The protestors also expressed concerns about the removal of topsoil and whether or not the land could actually be returned to farming after the project is completed – this is expected to be 35 years because that’s the average lifespan of the panels, however it could actually range between 20-40 years.

Galeria did not have the answer, simply because solar energy at this scale has not been around long enough for anyone to know. It has never been done before.

But he was able to answer for property values. He said the homes near the oldest sPower solar projects, which are about eight years old, did not decrease in property value. He does not expect the property value of the homes in Shelby County to decrease if a solar panel arrives.

Galeria said he would take all the concerns, questions and information the protestors presented to him in this discussion back to his team and would return in a few months with a first draft of a plan for the community to review.
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