Navigating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process — an act intended to help agency officials make better decisions that protect, restore and enhance the human environment — requires a variety of factors to be considered. As a public power provider serving more than 9 million people in the southeast, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) must evaluate the environmental effects of its decisions through the NEPA process. In 2019, the TVA released a long-term Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) providing guidance on how to meet future power demand in the Tennessee Valley for the next 20 years, with the development of renewable energy sources integral to achieving this goal. As a result, many developers are considering projects in the TVA service area that will require a NEPA assessment to provide power under a power purchase agreement (PPA) with TVA.

This means developers need to adhere to all environmental regulations in the process of implementing new generation projects. Among these necessary regulations, NEPA requires the lead federal agency responsible for issuing a decision or authorization to examine environmental, cultural and socioeconomic challenges, as well as define appropriate mitigation for potential impacts before approving a project.

Based on its 2019 IRP, TVA is aiming to add 14 gigawatts of solar-generated energy to its service area and is projecting a 70% reduction in carbon emissions from power generation over the next 20 years. When a renewable energy developer responds to a request for proposal for a PPA with TVA, selecting an experienced NEPA contractor and identifying a suitable project site are among the first steps to kick off a successful project.

A partnership with a NEPA contractor can help clients examine all the necessary factors when developing a project. Renewable project developers — for solar, wind, biodiesel, biogas and more — are required to examine both environmental and cultural impacts for any project, including:

  • If a cluster of rare plants are identified at a site or other vegetation concerns are present, the project layout may need to be revised to avoid that area.
  • Mitigation measures such as avoidance and/or implementing a buffer to adequately protect or minimize impacts on a nearby stream or wetland may also be developed.
  • Species-specific specialists may need to evaluate suitable habitats for threatened and/or endangered species adversely affected by a project.
  • Some locations may be designated as historically significant and require special surveys, avoidance measures or setbacks depending on the significance of the resource.

As the lead federal agency, TVA communicates directly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other interested federal agencies, as well as the State Historic Preservation Officer during the NEPA process. Having a skilled NEPA consultant that can provide clear and concise project information is integral to the success of these consultations and to navigate TVA’s NEPA process. A qualified firm can help facilitate communications and simplify the process for the developer. Integrated teams understand the challenges developers face and can anticipate potential issues based on past projects and lessons learned.

TVA maintains a list of qualified environmental consulting firms they recommend to help manage and simplify the NEPA process. Burns & McDonnell is listed among these qualified firms and is ready to help clients navigate any challenge.


Identifying a strategic solution to fit your renewable project needs can be a difficult process to navigate. Discover the power of having an experienced firm on your side.


Robyn Susemihl, an environmental studies section manager at Burns & McDonnell who specializes in federally regulated energy projects, is responsible for the management, assessment and analysis of environmental impacts under NEPA guidelines on a variety of projects.