Gold Meadow Farms, Cranston, R.I., Best Project
Owner: Captona Partners
Lead Design Firm & Structural, Civil, MEP Engineer: Fuss & O’Neill Inc.
General Contractor: CS Energy (Formerly Conti Solar)
Gold Meadow Farms is the largest solar installation to date in Rhode Island’s burgeoning renewable power industry, with more than 53,000 solar modules producing 21 MW of solar power, enough to serve approximately 22,000 homes.
To complete this major step in improving the state’s sustainable energy production, the project team had to contend with some difficult realities. While topography plays a critical role in the layout of solar energy projects, adapting the rugged 108-acre former dairy farm proved particularly challenging as original design drawings did not reflect actual conditions of the sloped, heavily backfilled site. Rather than compromise the project’s power-generation capacity, the team turned the site’s constraints into advantages.
A stone ridge had been previously blasted and processed into 40,000 cu yd of granular material, then used to backfill low-lying areas as deep as 18 ft. As a result, the team had only limited information about subsurface conditions for where solar panel units were to be mounted. Rather than rely solely on above-ground/ballast installation, the team integrated the drilling and grouting of 3,200 posts in the unfavorable backfill into the project schedule. Scheduling this process was critical, as one day of missed concrete delivery would result in each hole caving in, starting the entire process over.
To adapt the panel layout and the supporting infrastructure to the terrain, CS Energy worked with GameChange, the installation component manufacturer, to develop longer racking posts and brackets that could be adjusted vertically up to 10 in. high to accommodate site contours. This approach offset potential energy production losses resulting from the panels’ proximity to tree-shaded low-lying areas and helped cut project costs.
Solving one problem led to another, however, as three-quarters of the redesigned racking posts would be delivered two months later than scheduled. CS Energy moved quickly to rearrange the installation process, installing posts already on site strategically at combiner boxes, where series of solar modules are connected. Moving this phase of system infrastructure installation earlier in the schedule kept the project on track, preserving the overall six-month project schedule and budget.
One ENR judge considered the cost per megawatt on this project “right in line” with expectations for a comparable facility and added, “It’s a good solid project.”
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