Solar Builder Project of The Year Winner: Staten Solar’s Levee Mount

Levee Mount

Category: Ground-Mount (C&I)
Delano, Calif. | 522 kW


The agricultural segment has a conundrum when it comes to adding solar: it could benefit greatly from the power generation, but dedicating too much land for a sizable enough project will cut too deeply into its revenue. Wasting productive land just isn’t an option.

“Typically, farmers love their trees like their children, and they don’t want any harm to them or to their revenue,” says Sandipan Bhanot, president and CEO of Staten Solar Corp.

The owners of a farm in Delano, Calif., were just the latest example for Staten Solar, which has these conversations time and again since 30 to 40 percent of its revenue comes from agricultural installs. Solving this conundrum would be both a huge deal to its customers and its own business.
So, they solved it.

ground mount wnner'Enter the Levee Mount

To avoid using up too much agricultural land, the Staten team looked to an area you’d normally be advised to avoid — a nearby body of water. Farmers construct lagoons to pool water for any sediment to settle so it will not clog sensitive drip irrigation systems. The idea was to install solar panels along the levees of the irrigation lagoons to avoid wastage of more productive space.

In terms of space-saving, it was a no-brainer. Generally, a 500-kW solar system covers about two acres of land, but by strategically placing solar panels along the levees of the lagoon, 20 to 30 percent of the productive land and the associated annual crop revenues are saved. This also helps avoid deforestation. The farmer can now save tens of thousands of dollars every year by harnessing the power of solar energy.

But obviously, execution of the idea is easier said than done, especially considering no one had done it before.  “There are no off-the-shelf racking systems available,” Bhanot says. “Most of the companies you can think of will not supply anything for a project like this.”

Staten engineered its own solution, dubbed the Levee Mount, that had to be both structurally sound for this unconventional location and meet the stringent approval of the local building department.

By strategically placing solar panels along the levees of the lagoon, 20 to 30 percent of the productive land is saved.

By strategically placing solar panels along the levees of the lagoon, 20 to 30 percent of the productive land is saved.

Special considerations

Like any project, the Levee Mount started by accounting for regional wind loads, which is why they chose a strong galvanized steel foundation. But given the close proximity to water, this agricultural solar facility was constructed with special designs from Staten’s structural and electrical engineering staff.

Some examples: AHJ requirements called for at least 10 ft of clearance to the back. The structure also required sacrificial steel so that in the event of any corrosion, the integrity of the project would not be compromised for at least 25 years. They also galvanized the steel to improve its resistance to corrosion and weathering.

All of the posts that support the racking system were driven, which required equipment large enough to ram a 19-ft post into the ground. Some areas of the levees went up to 6 ft and had narrow embankments.

“There were lots of construction challenges; we had to build specialty platforms for the machines to stand on to start ramming through the levee into the ground,” Bhanot says. “This took place in Kern County [Calif.], and they have special inspectors that sit on site to watch and make sure that what was drawn is done in the field. So, that was an added source of anxiety, being unsure how they would respond, but it all turned out great.”

Oh, and there’s also the small matter of direct current lines being so close to a pool of water. Staten Solar wanted to use string inverters and try to minimize the DC wiring as much as possible.

“Normally we’d have, let’s say eight tables feeding one inverter, so we’d put that inverter in the middle of a table so that the cabling from all those tables can be minimized,” Bhanot explains. “In the Levee Mount, we didn’t want to do that. Here we have the inverters on the ground, with longer homeruns, which adds to the cost, but in the overall context it’s a miniscule cost increase for providing more safety because there is no AC voltage on the levees.”

Check out the other 2016 Project of the Year Winners

The levees went up to 6 ft and had narrow embankments.

The levees went up to 6 ft and had narrow embankments.

More Levee Mounts to come

This 522-kW Levee Mount project in Delano is just the first of many that have gone through the permitting stage and are awaiting construction as Staten Solar looks to make this strategy a bigger part of its focus going forward.

“We can go out to the customer and, if others say you have to cut down 300 trees, we can say they can preserve maybe 200 of them. Makes a huge difference,” Bhanot says.

In fact, the company is pitching customers as early as it can on the innovation to hopefully influence construction of the lagoons at the outset.

“Typically, we only install south-facing panels, so Levee Mounts can be done on the northern and southern edges of the lagoons,” he says. “We have been working with farmers so that they are now constructing their reservoirs based on our recommendation where the northern and southern edges are much longer than the east and west.”

After climbing this hill and placing PV on top of it, Bhanot thinks the next step to further improve PV’s value in the ag sector is getting AHJs on board with floating solar on top of the lagoon itself.

“We need to work with the AHJs to get them over the hump on that. We hopefully will have announcements on that next year,” Bhanot says, in what we can only assume is a spoiler alert for the 2017 Project of the Year awards.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar Frontier modules selected for variety of agricultural, residential projects in Mexico

Mexico solar project

A 480-kW solar system provides electricity for a vegetable farming operation located in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico.

Solar modules from Solar Frontier Americas are going to be installed in a pipeline of residential, agri-business and agro-industrial solar power generation projects in and around Sonora, Mexico, by Enilso. The solar projects range from 5-10 kW residential projects to 200-500 kW agricultural installations and are scheduled to be installed in Q3 of 2016.

Enilso is a rapidly-growing solar distribution and installation organization serving Mexico. Solar Frontier Americas is the U.S. subsidiary of the world’s largest CIS solar energy solutions provider, Solar Frontier.

In the arid climate of Sonora, agri-business is an important part of the economy where local farmers grow asparagus, table grapes and melons. The second phase of solar projects will be self-consumption ag-solar installations constructed to generate renewable energy for crop irrigation pumping, cooling facilities for freshly harvested fruits and vegetables and industrial processing and freezing of produce. These smart energy investments stabilize agricultural businesses by supporting energy independence, dramatically reducing energy costs and freeing capital for important equipment purchases.

RELATED: Staten Solar goes with Solar Frontier CIS modules for 16 California projects 

The founders of Enilso came from generations of farmers. In 2010, they saw the value solar brought to agricultural businesses and spearheaded several solar projects. Today that small business has grown to an experienced, full service installer serving the residential and large commercial solar markets of Mexico.

“We’re impressed with the consistent, organic growth of Enilso and their commitment to quality in both the solar components and construction of their solar projects,” said Charles Pimentel, COO of Solar Frontier Americas.

Solar Frontier’s CIS modules were selected by Enilso for their higher energy yield in real-world conditions. This is because of a number of technological advantages. In the hot climate of Sonora, for example, the low temperature coefficient of CIS ensures a smaller loss in power output compared to crystalline silicon technologies.

“Enilso selected Solar Frontier to provide our clientele with a solar module that can withstand the torrid climatic conditions of Mexico and continue to deliver the highest energy yields over the life of the solar system,” said Gustavo Borquez, CEO of Enilso.

Further reading: How new solar module technology lifts efficiency, limits price 


— Solar Builder magazine

Farmland Partners signs two solar ground lease agreements in South Carolina

Farmland solar lease

Farmland Partners Inc. is an internally managed real estate company that owns and seeks to acquire North American farmland and makes loans to farmers secured by farm real estate. The company is exploring additional uses of said land by entering into solar lease agreements. For example, it signed two new ground lease agreements for  PV facilities on two of its South Carolina farms.

“These South Carolina solar leases further demonstrate the additional upside rent potential for non-ag uses we have on our farms,” said Paul Pittman, CEO of the Company. “We continue to focus on developing supplemental revenue streams for the farms we own in order to increase returns for our stockholders.”


The agreements offer the right to lease up to an aggregate of approximately 979 acres that may be converted, at the tenant’s cost, from farming operations to energy generation.

The two farms are currently leased to local farmers for a blended annual rental rate of approximately $210 per acre for the 2,579 tillable acres of the farms. Under the terms of the agreements, the initial average annual rental rate will be $822 per acre for the 979 acres subject to solar development, with annual rent increases of 1.5 percent beginning in the fifth year of the lease terms. The agreements have initial 20-year terms with potential for extensions. Rent payments under the agreements will begin upon the onset of construction of the solar energy generation systems on the respective farms.

RELATED: Solar ag boom: Solar3D inks $12M in agricultural solar projects

Should all of the 979 acres be converted to solar, the farm-wide cap rate on the 2,579 tillable acres will increase to 10.6%, a 105% improvement over the current cap rate. With these Agreements, Farmland Partners will have three solar leases in place, on a total of 1,179 acres, and a wind lease on a farm, on approximately 28 acres, all located in North and South Carolina.

The agreements contain certain conditions, including a one-year due diligence period during which the potential tenant may terminate either of the leases.


— Solar Builder magazine

Solar ag boom: Solar3D inks $12M in agricultural solar projects

solar agriculture

The ag sector is excited about solar power. I mean, just look at how pumped those cows are.

Solar3D Inc., has secured approximately $12 million via several new agreements to provide agricultural and commercial customers in the Northern California region with comprehensive solar solutions. Solar3D is a provider of solar power solutions (with a big focus on agriculture and commercial) and the developer of a proprietary high efficiency solar cell.

“We are pleased to begin 2016 by announcing a number of solar agreements that we believe are an indicator of things to come this year,” said Jim Nelson, CEO of Solar3D. “Solar3D continues to build its position as the preferred integrator in the California agriculture solar market. Our experience shows that solar solutions are economically feasible, especially when given a customer-first suite of financing options.”

The company expects this trend to continue as the National Farmers Union (NFU) recently shared its support of the Department of Energy’s decision to maintain solar tax credits, stating that medium-sized rooftop solar power remained an ‘excellent low-risk investment’ for many farmers with substantial electricity bills.

RELATED: New Financing Model, Acquisition Position REC Solar for Commercial Success

Details on the most recent deals:

Butte County Rice Growers Association (BUCRA), a 100-year-old cooperative that has 400 farmer members in Northern California, contracted the Solar3D to provide a 2.2-MW ground mount solar system. The approximately $3.6 million installation is estimated to generate more than $14.8 million in energy cost savings over a 25-year period.

Corder Farms, a fourth generation family farm in the Fall River Valley, has agreed to a $2.1 million contract for the design and installation of a 1.03-MW ground mount system comprised of Canadian Solar Panels and Solectria inverters. The solar system is expected to save Corder Farms nearly $9 million in energy costs over a 25-year period.

Five H Farms is a prominent dairy farm located in Merced, Calif., that sought an energy-efficient solar program designed to improve efficiency and reduce overall energy costs. Following an implementation of a $1.4 million, 699-kW Canadian Solar Ground Mount, Five H Farms will realize more than $6.2 million in energy cost savings over a 25-year period.

Colusa Rice Co. was established in 1982 and operates as an S-Corp. comprised of 39 growers and owners. The organization requested the design and implementation of a $1.3 million, 667-kW ground mount solar system that will achieve over $5.5 million in energy cost savings over a 25-year period.

Kern Ice and Cold Storage, a cold storage facility located in Bakersfield, contracted with Solar3D for the design and installation of a 451-kW Sunpower Roof Mount solar system. The $1.1 million agreement is expected to generate more than $5.4 million in energy cost savings over a 25-year period.

The company also secured $2.5 million in combined agreements with farms including Tarke Farms, Sills Farms Inc., Van Dyke Farming, Cain Ranch, JH Meek & Sons and Heidrick & Heidrick Enterprises. The latter two companies are repeat customers, a strong representation of Solar3D’s commitment to customer service and financing options that benefit the customer above all else.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar ag boost: More USDA loans, grants available for renewable projects

USDA solar financing

The ag sector is an important one for solar, so the announcement last week from the USDA that it is awarding loans and grants that will help more than 1,100 rural small businesses and agricultural producers reduce energy usage and costs in their operations is a welcome one. The funding is for energy efficiency improvements and/or renewable energy systems.

USDA is providing $102 million in loan guarantees and $71 million in grants for 1,114 projects financed through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Among the projects, nearly $6 million is being awarded for 17 anaerobic digesters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington.

Some nice examples of this financing in action:

The owners of Parker Farms in Ripley, Tenn., are receiving a $45,000 REAP grant to help finance the installation of a 50 kW solar system that was installed late last year. The system has lowered the grain farm’s average monthly electric bill by $800 – from $1,140 to $340. That is a savings of nearly $10,000 a year. The solar system covers more than 70 percent of the farm’s annual electric costs. Parker Farms participates in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Green Power Providers program and sells 100 percent of its solar electricity to TVA at a premium.

RELATED: Watch REC Solar, Windset Farms flip switch on 1-MW solar array 

Fresh Air Energy XVI, LLC is receiving a $3.8 million loan guarantee to finance a 6.5 megawatt solar array in Greene County, N.C. The project is expected to produce enough energy to power 1,000 average-sized homes for a year. This is one of several loans the company is receiving to expand the use of solar energy in the state.

In Pearl City, Hawaii, the owner of the wholesale bakery “The Patisserie, Inc.” is being awarded a $256,000 loan guarantee and a $128,000 grant to install a PV system. It is expected to generate 172,000 kilowatts of energy annually and reduce energy use by nearly 40 percent.

RELATED: Obama Administration lays out more plans to boost clean energy installs 

“More rural business owners and ag producers are incorporating energy-saving measures into their business plans,” Vilsack said. “These actions improve an operation’s bottom line and help reduce its carbon footprint. This funding will help incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency technology and reduce energy costs. But beyond the local benefits seen by a company saving energy costs and the global benefits of reducing carbon emissions, this funding will also create American jobs by supporting energy production and efficiency installations that are made in rural America.”

Congress created the REAP program in the 2002 Farm Bill. Because of the success of the program, Congress reauthorized it in the 2014 Farm Bill with guaranteed funding of at least $50 million annually for the duration of the five-year bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past seven years while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.

Since the start of the Obama Administration, REAP has helped finance 10,753 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that have reduced energy costs for rural businesses nationwide. During this period, USDA has provided almost $360 million in grants and $430 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners. When operational, these projects will generate/save an estimated 8.4 million MWh.


— Solar Builder magazine