The Complete Guide to Site Preparation for Solar Energy Projects

What you need to know before you start a solar energy construction project


Community and utility-scale solar installations have been on the rise during the past two decades, and growth is expected to continue.1 With so much activity in this space, finding the right partner for solar site preparation services is critical for meeting safety, efficiency, and budget goals. Clearing land and installing ground-mounted solar panels requires careful planning and preparation, so choosing a company with specialized expertise is highly recommended.

This guide covers the basics of site preparation for solar energy projects, including various project types, the steps in the construction process, typical timelines, safety and environmental considerations like erosion control and SWPPP, common challenges, and how YAK ACCESS can support your solar energy project.


Download a PDF version of these site preparation tips.

Chapter 1

Ground-Mounted Solar Energy Project Types

Ground-mounted solar panels, which create a free-standing solar array that captures energy, can be used at any scale from a few panels for a residential home to utility-scale projects that cover hundreds of acres. Some of the most common types of solar projects include community, commercial, and utility-scale.


Community solar projects are often off-site arrays with a capacity of 1-5 megawatts (MW) that serve a variety of individuals and organizations in a particular area. Customers collectively buy or lease their portion of the solar array in exchange for credits to their electric utility bills. This type of project allows people and organizations that are unable to install their own solar panels to get clean energy for their home or business. 

Commercial and Industrial 

Large corporations that consume a lot of energy benefit from creating it themselves through private solar installations. For example, with a goal to have 100 percent of its operations powered by renewable energy by 2025, Amazon is the leading corporate participant in commercial solar projects with a mix of ground-mounted and rooftop solar arrays. 

The average size of commercial and industrial solar projects is around 100 kilowatts (kW) but can vary up to 5,000 kW.


Projects that generate more than 10 MW of energy are referred to as utility-scale. These projects can be developed by various types of stakeholders, including utility companies, government agencies, or private developers. Nearly 10,000 solar projects over 1 MW are in operation or development across the U.S.

Chapter 2

The Solar Project Design and Development Process

The planning process could take a few years, but laying this groundwork before construction starts is critical for project success. 

The first stages of a solar project are centered around planning, including:

  • Completing a transmission study
  • Selecting the site
  • Negotiating agreements
  • Securing financing
  • Developing engineering drawings
  • Procuring permits

Selecting a site preparation partner early in the design process is a good idea because they can provide advice at the conceptual stage and help inform pricing. Early feedback at the conceptual stage can also help you avoid costly problems, change orders, and rework once project execution begins. 

Chapter 3

Safety Considerations

Before any work begins on-site, it’s important to have a safety plan in place and safety personnel designated for each phase of the project.

Since there may be different crews at various stages of the project, each phase begins with a job safety analysis and safety briefing. This emphasis on safety helps to ensure that all crew members are aware of risks related to potential hazards, repetitive motion, noise-induced hearing loss, and other possible risks associated with the work ahead.

During each phase, safety training continues with tailgate talks, specialized training for specific tasks, and other methods to keep safety top of mind. 

Chapter 4

Environmental Considerations

Stormwater runoff from solar installation sites can cause significant harm to neighboring farmlands, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Stormwater pollution prevention plans (SWPPPs), which are required in order to get a general construction permit, outline the steps that will be taken to prevent stormwater pollution throughout the course of the project.

 In a nutshell, an SWPPP describes all the activities the site operator will undertake to:

  • Prevent stormwater contamination
  • Control sedimentation and erosion
  • Comply with the requirements of the EPA’s Clean Water Act

Although the specific requirements vary by state, most SWPPPs are written documents that include:

  • A description of the site and each planned phase
  • Roles and responsibilities of contractors and subcontractors
  • Inspection schedules and logs

When changes are made to the construction plans, they must be documented in the SWPPP—which is a living document—along with any associated stormwater pollution prevention activities.

In addition to SWPPP requirements, there may be local or regional environmental considerations such as endangered species, protected lands, or particularly sensitive areas.

Chapter 5

The Solar Site Preparation Process

After the necessary zoning and permitting steps are completed, every new solar installation starts with site preparation to create safe access and a level mounting surface for ground-mounted panels. 

Site Access

The first step is ensuring safe access to the site for clearing and construction crews. The complexity of site access solutions depends on the location, terrain, and typical weather conditions. Potential solutions include:

  • Clearing trees, shrubs, and other obstructions on the access right of way
  • Installing access matting to create temporary roads where necessary
  • Grading and filling to create temporary and/or permanent gravel roads
  • Installing temporary bridges or permanent culverts

In addition to providing safe access, any solution you choose should have the end of the project in mind. Consider the potential impact on the environment, how the road will be removed (if it is not permanent), and what restoration steps will be necessary. 

Clearing as part of site preparation for a solar energy project.


Installation of ground-mounted solar panels requires a level surface that is clear of obstructions. Clearing the site of trees, stumps, and other vegetation allows construction crews to safely and efficiently install panels. The scope of clearing will depend on the characteristics of the site, but could include:

  • Cutting and chipping
  • Grinding stumps
  • Hauling and disposing debris
  • Piling and burning
  • Mowing brush removal
  • Managing vegetation 

When possible, using mechanized equipment is typically the most efficient method of clearing. However, in some cases and in some areas, hand-clearing may be necessary. Regardless of the type of clearing required, it’s essential that the crews doing the work are trained and aware of any environmental considerations specific to the site. 

Civil Construction

Civil Construction

Civil construction includes implementing the measures outlined in the SWPPP for erosion control and shaping the landscape in preparation for solar installation. 

Depending on the characteristics of the site, erosion control tools and measures might include:

  • Silt fencing
  • Erosion control mats or blankets
  • Riprap
  • Dewatering
  • Seeding and stabilization
  • Sod installation
  • Concrete wash-out systems
  • Gravel entrances

After clearing, civil construction might also include cutting, filling, and grading to create a level surface for panel installation. 

Mechanical Construction

Ground-mounted solar arrays are installed at grade on galvanized steel and/or aluminum support structures. The support structures are bound to the earth using foundations consisting of driven piles, helical piles, ground screws, concrete footings, concrete ballast, or a mixture of these components. The type of foundation used depends on soil properties and the geometry of the foundation.

The mechanical construction phase includes creating the foundations for the support structures—most frequently with pile driving. Pile driving requires accurate distance, spacing, level, and depth of the piles. In rocky areas, pre-drilling may also be required to get the piles into the ground. After the pile foundations have been installed, panel racks can be mounted onto them. In some installations, trackers are installed prior to the solar panels. The next step is to carefully install panels on the racks either manually or with heavy equipment that raises and positions the panels. 

Once all of these site preparation and construction steps have been completed, electrical crews can come in to complete the installation. 

Chapter 6

Solar Site Preparation Challenges

As with any type of construction project, there are some common challenges that come with solar installations.

Environmental Fines

Failure to comply with the SWPPP and other environmental requirements can result in hefty fines. These not only add to the overall cost of the project, but they can also be damaging to your company’s reputation.

Hiring contractors who have experience with SWPPP planning and implementation, particularly for energy projects, helps ensure that your erosion control plan is understood and followed. 

Project Delays

Supply chain issues, permitting hurdles, and inclement weather are just a few of the potential reasons for project delays. Although it’s not possible to plan for every eventuality, having contingency plans in place can help mitigate some of these factors.

In addition to building in a buffer for unpredictable delays, work with a reliable site preparation contractor who has a proven track record of completing projects on time. The more variables you can control, the more likely it is that your project will succeed.   

Site Access Challenges

Although most solar project sites are relatively easy to access compared to other industries, you may still face some challenges with the entry to the project location.

Working with an established access planning provider is the best way to avoid these types of challenges. Handling a range of access challenges on a daily basis uniquely positions a site access company to execute your project seamlessly.  

Site Clearing Challenges  

The terrain can be one of the most challenging aspects of site clearing. Leveling hills, removing large rocks or other obstructions, and grading must be done right the first time or the consequences can be costly. Another potential challenge with site clearing is avoiding encroachment on neighboring land. This can be particularly difficult when trees near the property line must be removed. 

Experienced and specialized crews have the expertise and problem-solving skills to safely handle any challenges that might arise when site clearing. For solar site clearing, work with a provider that has experience in the energy industry, not with a general contractor.

Chapter 7

Solar Site Preparation with YAK ACCESS

YAK ACCESS has been providing complete access to various construction industries for decades—and specifically to the solar industry since 2017.

YAK’s offerings include:

  • Construction of temporary and permanent access roads
  • Mechanized clearing
  • Site preparation and grading
  • Civil services including Environmental & SWPPP
  • Pile driving and panel racking

Through the experience of our combined teams, we bring expertise that is unmatched in the industry. With facilities strategically located throughout the Eastern U.S., we can provide site preparation services for any solar project located east of the Rockies. 

Environmental and SWPPP Services

Thanks to our extensive experience with access projects for other types of utility projects, YAK ACCESS is deeply familiar with SWPPP compliance. Our crews are trained on erosion control practices and are accustomed to working with third-party inspectors on-site. 

Land Clearing

Our land-clearing services use heavy equipment to clear, remove, grind, and dispose of wood, biomass, rocks, and debris. We also have trained and certified manual sawyer crews to perform forestry practices in regulated wetlands, sensitive areas, and areas with limited access for machines.

Site Development and Civil Services

Regardless of the size or complexity of the job, our teams are experienced in providing the right solutions to site challenges. As part of our site services, our teams prepare and grade the ground for solar development in compliance with environmental regulations. When necessary, we use wheel loaders, excavators, dozers, and other heavy equipment to provide backfilling, drainage, pad construction, and other earth-moving services.

Pile Driving and Post Installation

We work directly with engineering, procurement, and construction professionals and developers to offer superior pile driving services east of the Rockies. Our experienced crews will evaluate geotechnical conditions and then operate pile driving equipment to drive racking posts into the ground to the required depth. With state-of-the-art pile driving equipment that auto-balances and levels the pile while it is being driven into the ground, we deliver efficient and accurate mechanical construction services. 


YAK ACCESS crews are the first ones in and the last ones out. From the initial access evaluation to the end of the project, our team ensures your site is left to your specifications, including restoring the land back to its original state after the project is complete.

Chapter 8

Partner with YAK ACCESS

Our most successful relationships share a foundation of effective planning and understanding of our partners’ long-term needs.

When you partner with YAK, we provide:

  • Training and protocols through our SAFETY MATTERS program
  • A la carte or turnkey site preparation services
  • On-site operations management
  • Account management
  • Project management teams
  • Site access consultations

YAK brands NEW SOUTH, KLEIN, and BLUROC have experience across all types of energy sectors and the capacity to take on multiple solar projects of any size in various locations, making YAK ACCESS a trusted partner for community, commercial, and utility-scale solar installations. Whether you partner with us directly or through an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contract, you can be confident that site preparation will be performed safely, efficiently, and in compliance with environmental regulations.

If you’d like to discuss your next solar installation project, contact YAK ACCESS today. 

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    Download a PDF version of these site preparation tips.