McCarthy Sets Challenging Pace to Complete Hazlehurst Solar Farm Ahead of Schedule
One of Georgia’s largest solar energy installations, located in Hazlehurst, a 52-megawatt (MWac) plant, generates enough electricity to help supply about 8,500 households. McCarthy Building Companies of Atlanta converted a former 480-acre agricultural site into the 633,600-panel array, completing it three months early.
“Georgia is a great state for solar construction,” says Matt McMullan, Project Director for McCarthy, the engineer, procure, construct (EPC) contractor on the project. “Solar energy can provide a great benefit to everyone.”
The U.S. solar market had its biggest year ever in 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Georgia was the third highest state as a producer of solar power. It reports approximately $1.2 billion was invested in solar in Georgia during 2016. The association expects an additional 2,260 MW will be added during the next five years.
‘A Cooperative Effort’
Silicon Ranch Corp. of Nashville, Tennessee, developed, funded, owns and will operate the facility. Green Power EMC and nine subscribing members will purchase all of the energy generated for the next 30 years. It is the second project for the partnership between these two entities.
“This solar farm is the result of a cooperative effort,” said Matt Kisber, President and CEO of Silicon Ranch Corp, at the dedication of the facility.
The Hazlehurst solar facility generates 52 megawatts of alternating current. The array will produce more than 134 million kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable electricity annually. The emission offset is about 92,500 metric tons of greenhouse gases.
McCarthy enjoys more than 40 years of conventional and renewable power plant experience. The company started building solar facilities about eight years ago based in the Southwest, and its Phoenix team works with the local offices in the design, procurement and construction of similar facilities nationwide. It has completed more than 783 MWs of utility scale and distributed solar power plants in the United States.
Design and Procurement
After Silicon Ranch partnered with McCarthy, McCarthy called upon its team of solar experts to evaluate the site, model it, produce layouts of the panels and other equipment, and determine how many panels could fit on the acreage by determining the best use of the available space and materials.
Silicon Ranch provided the First Solar panels and single-axis tracker mounting system that hold the panels. The power-generating, glass panels are a combination of 112.5 watt and 115 watt panels. The racks rotate, tracking the sun, from east to west and then return to a flat position at night.
“The tracker system tries to gain as much efficiency from the sun during the day,” says McMullan, explaining that long-term, while a tracking system is more expensive to initially purchase than a fixed system, the additional power it generates can make a project a better option.
Wind and weather sensors on the system will alert for high winds and bring the panels down to a flat level to protect the panels from damage.
Complete civil and electrical design of the facility are also a part of McCarthy’s EPC scope. The facility is unique in that it required a new substation expansion to be developed, and 3 miles of new electrical collection lines were required to be installed to serve the new facility.
A Friendly Competition
McCarthy broke ground on the facility in April 2016. The company began with tilling the acreage on the former peanut farm and removing trees. McCarthy self-performed all of the pile driving, racking and module installations.
“The biggest challenge was the pace,” McMullan says. “It was an extremely fast production.”
The site is divided by a stream. McCarthy set up two teams, one on each side of the stream, which matched the two primary electrical circuits of the facility. Some friendly competition developed to see whether the team on the east or west sides of the water would finish first. The site has 19 blocks, 10 on one side of the stream and nine on the other.
After completing civil improvements to the site, starting in June, crews drove 42,000 galvanized-steel H piles, which hold the tracker structure and power-producing modules. Surveyors ensured the piles were set in the correct location prior to them being driven by one of four pile drivers on site. The company ran four pile driving machines daily. The goal was for each machine to install 250 to 300 piles per day.
McCarthy then installed the racks on top of the piles, which remain above ground. Throughout the process, quality control inspections were conducted to ensure everything was at the right level and in the right plain, and that the bolts were properly torqued.
Crews followed behind to place the more than 633,000 solar panels on the rotating racks. Panel placement was complete in early November 2016, with as many as 40,000 panels installed per week.
Providing Economic Opportunity
“A big part of our responsibility is to make sure the site will produce power safely and efficiently,” McMullan says. Following electrical connections completion by the site electrical subcontractor, McCarthy also completed commissioning of the facility.
“Solar projects like this one provide a great jobs creation benefit throughout their construction,” McMullan says.
The majority of workers were hired from the local area, which has a higher unemployment rate than other areas around the state. More than 300 men and women worked on the project during the eight-month construction period. McCarthy provided training to do quality installations and perform the work in a safe way. In addition to orientations and daily safety briefings, McCarthy completed a task-hazard analysis before every activity.
“This project is in an area that has been a bit economically depressed, and a lot of its industry has gone away over the last decade,” McMullan adds. “This project provided opportunities to many individuals within the community, and we’re very pleased with the quality and caliber of work that we were able to tap into.”
McCarthy was then able to bring about a dozen of those people to work on projects in the Atlanta area, following completion of the project in Hazlehurst.
The Hazlehurst Solar Farm began generating power in December 2016 and the facility was formally dedicated in April 2017.
“I’m proud of the team that came together, including our staff, labor force, subcontractors, equipment vendors and design partners,” McMullan concludes. “We made sure we provided a high-quality product to our owner ahead of schedule.”