Inverviews with Innovators: Environmental Compliance and Strategy Team
Invenergy is a leader in the responsible development, construction, and operation of sustainable energy projects, and we take our track record of environmental stewardship seriously.
The Environmental Compliance and Strategy (ECS) team is comprised of subject matter experts on plants, wildlife, and sensitive habitats, and the group leads planning around those matters for Invenergy. The team maintains trusted relationships with regulators, customers, government agencies, and conservation organizations to ensure we deliver on our commitments to keep sustainability a driving force behind each of our projects.
Interviews with Innovators is a regular blog post series that dives into different aspects of the clean energy industry with the help of Invenergy subject matter experts. Contributing to the second installment are Environmental Compliance and Strategy Directors Andrea Giampoli and Brad Romano and Manager John Aquilino, who discuss what the ECS team’s focus looks like in practice and how the team applies Invenergy’s innovative mindset in addressing environmental issues large and small.
Please introduce the ECS team and talk a little bit about the different aspects of what you do.
Our role is to make sure the company complies with all environmental laws that protect our natural resources, such as threatened and endangered species, migratory birds, wetlands and other protected lands. These laws include federal and state engendered species acts, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Clean Water Act, along with state and local laws.
We support Invenergy’s projects from the earliest stages of development through operations. A significant amount of work and effort goes into understanding the natural resources in each project area and developing a project design and action plan which responsibly accommodates those resources. We also engage in research and other initiatives that help us track and implement the leading science and policy around natural resources, both within a clean energy context and more generally.
The ECS team is focused on supporting US renewables development, specifically wind, solar and transmission, and provides support to our international teams on an as-needed basis.
What are some sensitivities taken into account when considering a site for development?
A key aspect of our team’s role is to engage with federal and state regulatory agencies early in the development process to begin to understand potential resource concerns or survey recommendations the agencies may have. We’ll often meet numerous times with regulatory agencies throughout the project development lifecycle to discuss survey methods and findings and gather input on project plans to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any risks identified in earlier stages. This engagement fosters strong relationships with agency staff and helps facilitate a more effective path forward for any potential state or local permitting a project requires. Customers and agencies often review these materials during the due diligence process, and proactive engagement and thoughtful incorporation of agency feedback help us build credibility with them as well.
State and federal regulatory agencies issue guidance documents that we track and follow. One of the most prominent is the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wind Energy Guidelines (WEG), which provides a tiered approach to assessing environmental resources within a project area.
How do you keep track of the latest trends and tools that might affect how we develop each site?
Having the right tools is vitally important for efficient communication, understanding of site issues, and quick resolution to issues that may arise during construction.
For a preliminary site assessment, we use a robust, in-house Geographic Information System (GIS) that incorporates numerous publicly available data layers into maps. These maps allow us to identify environmental resources and constraints on the landscape, including for example proximity to protected lands, USFWS-designated Critical Habitat for federally endangered species, potential habitat for other managed species, and potential wetland and water resources.
The ECS team works with third-party compliance consultants, Invenergy’s Project Management team, and construction contractors to develop and implement a project-specific compliance mapping/tracking platform to communicate and manage any compliance items requiring attention. These platforms are usually GIS-driven and tie inspection findings, photos, and documentation of compliance resolution to a precise place and time; this consolidation makes for efficient communication of issues and for early identification of emergent issues so they can be resolved quickly.
By making the platforms project-specific, we focus on the key commitments and resources relevant to each site, which ensures these items are prioritized and adequately addressed by our construction teams.
Are the siting studies similar for every project?
Invenergy applies the tiered assessment approach laid out in the USFWS Wind Energy Guidelines when developing both wind and solar projects, and a project-specific set of surveys is developed for each project.
In general, environmental surveys are conducted to inform project siting so facilities are located out of environmentally sensitive areas. Surveys are conducted to understand the characteristics of these resources and the potential to support protected species. The collected information is used to site project infrastructure to avoid and minimize potential impacts to these resources. Solar projects, which have different project footprints, employ surveys and planning for land-based resources as an integral part of their planning and development.
What is ECS’s role when project construction begins?
The construction phase is where Invenergy begins executing on many of the commitments and plans made during development. Successful execution of construction compliance plans requires a lot of vigilance, and the ECS team is engaged in the organization, setup, and coordination of the environmental compliance support program for each construction project. Our team works hand in hand with the construction crews, customers, and third-party compliance monitoring consultants to watch for and stay ahead of any compliance-related issues out in the field.
This program always includes compliance training and awareness programs for the construction team and periodic inspections by third-party environmental compliance consultants, but it often also includes signs or flagging along resource boundaries, seasonal work activity restrictions, and agency reporting of permit condition compliance.
Once construction is complete, our team continues to support environmental compliance during operations. We work closely with customers, regulatory agencies, our internal Operations and Asset Management teams to execute any operational commitments and plans. We also provide subject matter expertise to updated and develop new plans for emerging environmental risks which may arise during operations, such as new species being added under regulatory protections.