Energy providers around the world are accelerating efforts to expand renewable energy generation. Utility-scale solar and wind projects are necessary to achieve ambitious carbon emission reduction goals and environmental, social and governance targets. While many federal, state and local government programs are incentivizing strong growth in renewable projects, the industry cannot overlook the importance of long-term planning for renewable generation at this scale to support efficient and responsible project development.
Siting and permitting renewable projects is a complex process and rules and regulations vary by jurisdiction, project size and type. To navigate these complexities and streamline everything from site selection to environmental permitting, owners should consider partnering with an integrated engineer-procure-construct (EPC) firm. Integrated EPC firms think with the end in mind and approach permitting with a construction-first mindset. This integrated team can adapt to changing environmental regulations, manage stakeholder engagement and help keep the project safely on track.
In the U.S., large-scale renewable energy projects are subject to all the necessary environmental permits of major industrial facilities. Many states have a threshold of electricity generation that spurs permitting as well as other regulatory requirements. For example, the Ohio Power Siting Board defines a major utility facility as an electric generating plant (including wind powered) with a capacity of 50 megawatts or more and requires such projects to meet certain permitting requirements, agency oversight and eventual certification issuance. These activities, studies and permitting strategies can take over six months to coordinate, review and submit to the board.
An integrated EPC team can help an owner assess the key considerations of renewable projects, such as securing access to a suitable site, land use, and access to transmission and water rights. Permitting requirements depend on aspects such as new substation location, environmental impacts to wetlands or wildlife, and net metering options. To minimize a site’s impact, numerous environmental studies may be evaluated. Integrated EPC teams can process new information that comes through these permitting efforts to quickly adjust layout and interconnection assumptions. With environmental and engineering professionals working together, a team can optimize designs that balance environmental mitigation strategies with avoidance of areas of concern, all while delivering on the owner’s project goals.
From land control to interconnection agreement completion, renewable projects and the environmental permitting required can take more than three to five years to complete. This significant time investment makes it essential to have an experienced team on the job with the awareness of policies that can expedite the permitting process and eventual grid connection to less than 24 months, depending on location.
When there is only one contract, one integrated execution team and a single direct contact, an owner can minimize the oversight work required and have confidence that the project presents a cohesive, streamlined permitting package for review by the regulatory agency. An integrated EPC team can then seamlessly segue from permitting to implementation, managing everything from the preconstruction activities and agreements to equipment installation and project commissioning.
With the construction market tightening, early partnership with an integrated EPC firm helps project developers and/or owners have confidence that they are working with a team that understands the end goal — renewable and sustainable megawatts on the grid, on schedule — and will support them from initial siting to commercial operation date. This kind of partnership among all parties can lead to a more cost-effective, safe and streamlined approach for future opportunities. It also can allow for a greater volume of projects to be completed.
No matter the project phase, an integrated EPC team can tap into its breadth of resources to complete the job safely and successfully. In addition to early site feasibility phases and interconnection agreements, environmental siting and permitting can be the difference between a project that is profitable or a project that languishes. An integrated approach is ideal for solar and wind development projects that require a multidisciplinary engineering team, environmental permitting and siting leads, public involvement professionals and construction professionals. At the end of the day, an integrated EPC team offers owners a one-stop shop to achieve a safe, successful, high-quality project from start to finish.
As more utilities and independent power producers consider solar-plus-storage facilities, an integrated EPC firm puts value first.