EIR Considerations for Campus Solar Installation

Victor Valley College’s new 1-megawatt solar energy plant, on a 6-acre plot in Victorville, CA, provides around 30% of the campus’ power. The facility uses concentrator photovoltaics, or CPV, technology that provides power concentrated in a smaller area requiring less land.

Dudek prepared the project’s environmental impact documentation in coordination with GKKWorks, the college’s overall program manager. The Dudek and GKKWorks team offers these tips for a campus considering installing a solar facility:

Review environmental issues upfront. The campus master plan specifically identified a future solar farm and the associated environmental impact report (EIR) provided clear direction as to the additional studies and issues that needed to be addressed when the solar facilities were specifically designed. “Since the master plan had considered the project, performing the CEQA analysis was more streamlined and efficient for the college once the project kicked off,” said Stephanie Standerfer, Dudek’s senior environmental planner.

Standerfer recommends that colleges’ review their campus master plans with an eye toward future sustainable energy projects. “Some elements of a university’s master plan can get pretty specific,” she said. “For example, descriptions of ‘campus community’ character often discuss aesthetics and height limits, which should be carefully worded to allow for future alternative energy projects to avoid a costly plan amendments.”

Solicit technology input. “We talked with five solar technology companies before putting the RFP together,” said Al McQuilkin, a GKKWorks senior program manager who supervised the College’s bond program that funded the solar facilities. “By soliciting broad input, the RFP provided a better description of approach and technology for vendors to bid on.”

Best solution depends upon the user and site. McQuilkin said the bidding process illustrated the variety of technologies and approaches by vendors in the solar market. “The CPV technology and the manufacturer were a perfect application for the Victor Valley site. Other sites and other users may be better suited for different solutions,” he said.