Developing utility-scale solar requires a plethora of preparations, from land easements and county permitting to coordinating interconnection and establishing renewable energy credits. Adapture Renewables, a developer based in Oakland, California, is no stranger to large-scale solar, as it has worked on solar projects across the country. But the experienced contractor learned first-hand how important preparation is after it acquired an under-development portfolio of Western Oregon solar projects in 2019.
Adapture welcomes a challenge, but fulfilling the remaining development requirements of 10 arrays for one off-taker in unfamiliar territory was a new prospect for the company. The acquired portfolio included 10 yet-to-be-developed projects totaling 31 MW, with each site averaging 3 MW.
“If you talk about utility-scale solar, obviously our preference would be to go out and build a 100-MWDC site because you’re doing it once,” said Don Miller, COO and general counsel at Adapture Renewables. “When you do it 10 times, you’re kind of a glutton. It’s like you’re taking on a challenge because you’ve got potentially 10 different landlords. In this case, the beauty of this was we had one off-taker, one interconnecting utility.”
That one off-taker was Portland General Electric, which supplies electricity to nearly half of Oregon and was eager for project completion. Once acquired by Adapture, the project portfolio was estimated to have another six months of development tasks before going to construction.
“We had to make sure [Portland General Electric’s] upgrades were happening as we were designing our system as well,” said Goran Arya, director of business development, Adapture Renewables. “And basically, making sure we coincide with when they’re able to accept our power as well as when we also plan to be able to export our power.”
Then working with 10 different landowners meant dealing with 10 different personalities. Adapture’s development team needed to resecure land rights on all 10 sites for 35 years after taking over the portfolio from the previous developer.
“We have a very long view of things — 35 years plus,” Miller said. “So, in some cases when we’re doing the due diligence on projects we’re looking for, do we have site control for that length of time? Sometimes an original developer will take care of it on some of the projects, but not all, so in that case we’ll have to go back and renegotiate with the landlord — get a little bit of extra extension time so we can exercise options for that 35 years.”
Almost all 10 of the projects had special-use permits in place but were located across five different counties, some straddling county lines. The arrays are located in Oregon City (3.12 MW), Molalla (3.54 MW), Salem (1.44 MW), Willamina (3.65 MW), Aurora (2.56 MW), Sheridan (3.45 MW), Boring (3.04 MW), Woodburn (3.44 MW), Forest Grove (3.48 MW) and Silverton (3.45 MW).
Juggling 10 sites
Once the interconnection agreements and financing were in place, Adapture sent its construction superintendents to Portland to begin hiring local laborers to build the arrays. The company prefers to use a local labor force for its familiarity with the landscape. This minimizes how many people Adapture sends to jobsites and saves on travel costs and time needed for onboarding. Then, project managers oversee construction and bounce between projects.
Multiple surveyors, civil and electrical contractors were brought on to meet the needs of every project. Some sites had natural features like creeks and trees that required additional design and civil considerations.
While several projects were under construction at the same time, Morgan Zinger, senior project manager at Adapture Renewables, was visiting multiple sites each day to ensure design plans were followed.
“Taking on a portfolio like this, you really have to see it as one group,” Zinger said. “It’s like you couldn’t take your foot off the gas until they’re all done.”
Mother Nature steps in
Working in construction in 2020 on the West Coast brought with it many challenges.
To start, installation happened during the pandemic, which required social distancing, sanitizing and additional safety measures. On top of that, Oregon experiences an annual rainy season from November through March, and the Portland area alone experienced 164 days of rain in 2020.
“It’s really hard to do earthwork when it’s wet outside,” Zinger said. “You might try to build a row and you just keep compacting it and it just compacts more and you have to add more gravel and it just keeps going. It can get so wet where you can’t hit the compaction number you’re trying to [reach].”
Installers had to focus on ground work like foundations during drier months. Construction across the board ceased in one county from November through March, affecting two solar sites.
Not only did the team endure the wet season, but they also faced unprecedented wildfires.
In late 2020, a cluster of fires burned as far north as Oregon City, which is where one of the projects in Adapture’s portfolio was located. Four-thousand homes and 1.07 million acres of Oregon land were destroyed by the 2020 wildfires.
Despite the delays created by a natural disaster, consistently inclement weather and a global pandemic, Adapture brought the 10th and final solar project online in February 2021. Due to module availability issues, projects used a mix of ET Solar and GCL modules, but all had fixed-tilt APA Solar Racking and Sungrow inverters.
Adapture completed 17 projects last year, 10 of which were from the Western Oregon portfolio.
“It takes full organizational engagement, so we had everyone keyed in on these projects, making sure folks were involved at the right time,” Arya said. “And I think what we learned, and we started employing later on in the process, was bringing people in earlier than we typically would just to make sure they’re involved and they can address those concerns early on.”
Although familiar with multi-project portfolios, Adapture hopes to transition to mainly developing larger single projects — those with megawatt counts as large as the entire Western Oregon portfolio.