Checking for all of the pieces before buying a solar development

There are many on-line stores that will sell you build-it-yourself furniture. When the kit arrives, Instruction #1 typically reads: “Check for all of the pieces.” That’s because it’s easier to deal with a missing piece before anyone starts to build. No one likes to discover while building that a piece is missing.

A similar thing happens with many large solar-energy facilities. The development rights and permits for a surprising number of solar arrays aren’t obtained by the company that ends up building and owning the array. Instead, there are consultants that seek out promising solar-panel sites. When they find one, the consultants negotiate with the site’s owner for exclusive development rights. Once the consultant gets those rights, the consultant prepares initial designs and then applies for the necessary permits and utility interconnection agreements.

Often the consultant’s work ends there. The consultant will sell the package – the agreements with the site’s owner, the project’s utility interconnection agreement, and the project’s permits -- to any entity interested in seeing the project to completion. It’s a build-it-yourself kit, minus the hardware. But if the kit came with directions, Instruction #1 would still be “Check for all of the pieces.”

When a solar consultant recently approached a national renewable-energy investment fund with an unbuilt 6-megawatt solar development in central Massachusetts, the fund turned to Ferriter Scobbo and asked a straightforward question: did the project have all of its permits, and if not, how long would it take to get them? Ferriter Scobbo has a thorough Solar Checklist. The Solar Checklist identifies all of the federal, state and local permits necessary to build solar projects in Massachusetts. The Solar Checklist helped Ferriter Scobbo zero in on the project’s unique feature: while the proposed solar array was to be built in one Massachusetts town, the project’s access road needed to come from a different town, starting from a state highway. No one could use the access road to build or operate the proposed project unless the neighboring town granted a special zoning permit, which the consultant hadn’t obtained. Permission from the state likewise was needed to connect the access road to the state highway; given the size and scope of the project, getting that permission would have required a filing under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act. All of this meant, at the very least, delays in construction. Ferriter Scobbo identified too many missing pieces in this “build-it-yourself” kit, and the fund decided to invest its dollars elsewhere.