Taking On the Challenge of Solar Farm Construction

D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments has long been a market-leading owner and operator of solar and wind projects throughout the United States. But DESRI faced a unique challenge following the onset of COVID-19. Uncertainty gripped the capital equipment markets, threatening to disrupt pacing of the company’s carefully scheduled project plans, particularly in the build-out of solar farms.

“The immediate hurdle was lack of access to equipment needed for solar farm construction,” said Executive Chairman Bryan Martin. “We had to get creative and find new sources for equipment. Ultimately, we stayed the course, taking on each challenge as it presented itself and by year’s end, we kept pace successfully.”

DESRI currently owns and manages 39 such projects in 18 states that, in total, represent more than 2,300 megawatts of capacity. That’s a lot of power. And, considering the typical energy project takes three or four years to complete, it takes an extraordinary amount of long-term planning as well.

Ultimately, we stayed the course, taking on each challenge... and by year's end, we kept pace successfully.

– Bryan Martin, Executive Chairman, DESRI

COVID-19 suddenly shut off the supply of most equipment primarily sourced from Asia. As a workaround, DESRI arranged to reroute supplies and perform assembly in countries that had not yet experienced pandemic-related trade constraints. And, because DESRI has several projects under development, it was able to swap inventory among them with the help of financing partners and utilities.

As of late 2020, despite initial risk and uncertainty, all of DESRI’s project build-outs were moving ahead on schedule. Two external factors helped to minimize pandemic-related disruptions, Martin said. First, early on, governments designated electricity as critical infrastructure, allowing on-site construction work to resume quickly and safely. Second, markets remained liquid; DESRI was able to find financing partners, including CoBank.

The CoBank collaboration kicked off with the 2015 financing of the Block Island Wind Farm, located in the Atlantic Ocean near Rhode Island, the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S. “From the very start, CoBank was at the forefront of being a stable collaborator,” Martin said. “They’re a terrific example of what we look for, not only in financing projects, but also in helping build customer relationships with rural utilities we serve where CoBank has had relationships much longer than we have.”

CoBank currently finances eight of DESRI’s wind and solar projects, including high-profile builds in Illinois—Prairie State and Dressor Plains. When completed in 2021, these two solar installations will serve Wabash Valley Power Association, a cooperative that provides wholesale power to 23 member distribution co-ops in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.