Railsplitter Solar, Explained

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Ranger Power has rolled its White Tail Solar project into a new project: Railsplitter Solar.

“Based on feedback [that] we have received through extensive outreach to Augusta Township and its residents in the years since we started working in the Township, we have decided to refocus our solar development efforts on a project area to the south of the land in our current application. This southern project area has been very well received and has previously received preliminary approval from the Augusta Township Planning Commission,” Stephanie Cepak – from the PR firm Byrum & Fisk – said in an email.

This change has come about from two factors. Firstly, some residents were opposed to the original location for the 120 MW utility scale solar farm. Secondly, the Chicago-based solar power development company has recently acquired the once-proposed Sugar Creek Solar Project, which had already gotten site approval from the township by another company years ago, but was not completed. Ranger plans on rolling the two projects together into a new project: Railsplitter.

A map of the proposed solar farm. Image Credit: Sergio Trevino, Ranger Power

This project would still create 120 MW of renewable energy for Detroit Thomas Edison, under the same basic conditions. Ranger would add hundreds of solar panels on fields leased from local residents, to add to the utility companies pledge to decarbonize their power sources that it sends to residents, making both about 150 of short term construction jobs and a smaller number of long term jobs to the residences. After the decades-long contract is over, future landowners and board members will then be able to make the decision on whether to continue using the land to generate power, or to revert it to farmland.

Ranger says that they are still communicating as much as possible to the communities in both York and Augusta Township; both townships will need to give the $130 million project their final ok before construction can begin. But the project still has some residents uncomfortable and unwilling to see the solar farm from their property; a problem which Ranger says will solve with “screens” of evergreen trees, blocking the rows solar panels – which can be as high as 15 feet as they tilt from east to west, following the sun – from view.

One Augusta Township Planning Commissioner claimed that Ranger had committed to a 500 foot setback between the panels and the property line of any of the neighbors. Ranger said that they had done that in the plan where feasible, but it was not possible everywhere. Ranger is committing that the closest the panels will be to anyone's property line will be 150 feet. 

One resident asked during the Wednesday evenings meeting of the Augusta Planning Commission that if this project is eventually built, what would stop other developers from coming and covering the entire township with solar farms? In answering this, Ranger Power’s Vice-President of Permitting Sergio Trevino said that the reason that Ranger had selected this region for solar development was the same reason it would not expand to cover the whole township, proximity to infrastructure.

“Existing transmission infrastructure is a real limiting factor,” Trevino said during the meeting, held over Zoom. He explained that since it is often prohibitively expensive to build new high capacity power lines their geography “naturally limits the amount” of future locations for utility scale solar farms.

Image Credit: Ranger Power

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