4 min read

Time Killer: Finding Greenfield Sites for Energy Development

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Pop quiz: how many people love putting time, energy, and resources into a project, only to watch it fall through weeks, months, or even years later? The answer is, of course, absolutely nobody. Ever. Seriously, like a negative number of people.

And yet, to watch land developers in the United States try and find suitable greenfield land for energy development, you'd think wasting time was a national hobby. It is almost ironic that renewable energy projects, meant to safeguard resources and do more with less, are particularly susceptible to unnecessary expenditures due to the environmental permitting process.

Not that they're the only ones, mind you. The same goes for real estate developers and fossil fuel projects. Frankly, we don't love it … but what should we do about it?

Fear not, O savior of siting, O chevalier of conservation! There's a solution – and perhaps surprisingly, given how few people are availing themselves of it, it's easier than you'd think. In a nutshell, we need systems built to mitigate environmental risk early, quickly, and accurately. Doing this across the board will prove a complete game-changer for every participant in the land development eco-system process.

Dunno about you, but when we hear "complete game-changer for every participant in the land development eco-system process," we get excited. So, without further ado, let's dive in.


The Siting Process Explained


Before you can build a solar farm or erect wind turbines on those wild country hills, you need to clear a bunch of environmental due diligence hurdles. Factors that need to be accounted for include:

  • Natural areas: Wetlands, watersheds, floodplains, and aquifers
  • Areas of public interest: Tribal areas, opportunity zones, special regulatory districts
  • Conservation concerns: Wildlife corridors, preserves, and protected species
  • Geology: Soils, faults, karst areas, contours, and slopes
  • Energy production: Facilities, transmission lines, pipelines, power plants, oil and gas plays, mines
  • Regulations: Rules regarding all of the above

Land developers know it's critical to handle all these factors upfront. Fail to, and you're setting yourself up for a fall down the line. The question is, how do you pass such a dizzying array of hurdles?

Well, while there are many ways land gets developed, the primary process typically falls into one of two buckets:

  1. Some project developers, typically larger companies, will manage the entire process from finding and selecting potential land to performing risk analysis, construction development, and everything else, cradle to grave.

  2. Other firms specialize in hunting suitable land parcels to be developed for large solar or wind projects – or oil and gas or real estate projects. These companies typically bundle the land siting results into buckets and then get paid by the more prominent solar developers, who build out the final projects. You can think of these companies as scouts. They do the early and time-consuming work of finding suitable land.

No matter which lane you choose, though, eventually, you have to make sure the chosen land really will fit the bill. Because it doesn't matter how well-intentioned you are, no amount of "I didn't know, mister, I swear!" will save you if you run afoul of environmental regulations. This means someone has to do the nasty legwork of clearing all those environmental hurdles.

Vipers: enter stage left!

Environmental Consulting

A Reliable Roadblock: Environmental Consulting

Once the renewable energy development companies accept the land and pay the company that found them the potential parcel, the next step is to call the environmental consultants and ensure nothing prevents the project from getting developed.

Now, we won't lie; it all sounds like a good idea. Very above-board and honorable. Kindly, even.

Here's the schtick: you need to respect environmental regulations, obtain all the necessary permits, and move forward correctly. But it's not your area of expertise! It's a lot of time and energy you could spend elsewhere! So why not let an environmental consultant do the work for you? They're the experts, right? They'll take care of everything … you just get back to keeping everyone’s lights on.

Except that's not all there is to it. The environmental consulting process is expensive, time-consuming, and risky. Consultants bill by the hour, don't offer a ton of (if any) transparency and provide vague timelines at best.

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Delays, Cost Overruns, Unmet Energy Efficiency Goals, Oh My!

We're not just talking about difficult areas such as Brownfield land, with its rampant contamination and regulatory challenges. We're talking plain old greenfield land, often already earmarked for potential development. It shouldn't be this hard … but it is. The numbers don't lie.

These numbers are a real buzzkill, too. Did you know that, on average, only 10 percent of the land identified for big renewable electricity projects actually gets developed into energy-producing success? That means if 200 parcels of land are evaluated, only 20 make it to viable development after clearing environmental risk assessment and analysis. Moreover, most rejections take 4-6 months to come through. That is an astronomical amount of lost time, money, and opportunity. It also makes for a lot of:

  • Unscrupulous rule-bending and palm-greasing
  • Project delays and cost overruns
  • Unmet energy transition goals

The last is especially important to note. Given the current system, there’s no way this country can meet its climate change and clean energy targets. Even if that weren't a factor, it should go without saying that 10 percent is too darn low. We need a better way.


A Better Way to Assess Land

Happily, as we said above, that way does exist. Quickly and upfront accounting for the environmental risk would mitigate most of it right out of the gate. That would save tons of time and resources; it would also help break the death grip environmental consultants currently have on the permitting process – and land development as a whole.

Here's how it would work:

  1. A renewable energy developer, commercial real estate developer, or oil and gas company decides to greenlight a new project.
  2. They pay a company to find the site for them.
  3. The company doing the initial land search simultaneously provides the critical issues analysis and potential land use recommendations – also called an environmental desktop report or feasibility study.
  4. The land developer chooses suitable land much more quickly and easily and avoids nasty surprises down the road.
  5. Everyone has cake.

Okay, the cake is optional. The point is, if the scout can provide upfront environmental risk analyses to the renewable energy company accepting the land, we'd neatly avoid most of the risk. And just like that, your project success likelihood would skyrocket.


A Complete Game-Changer, Available Today

Remember when we said we need to mitigate environmental risk early, quickly, and accurately? We're talking about this; this is the complete game-changer for every participant in the land development eco-system, whether in renewables, commercial real estate, or fossil fuel mining. The only losers are the environmental consultants, and since they weren't adding anything to the early experience, well … bye.

Even better, companies that make money finding the land will get more clients because they're handing off a much more valuable asset, alleviating a time-consuming and critical step that pretty much no one wants to take on.

Well, no one except Transect. We provide the answers you need to breeze through the siting process and identify more viable land for development. Whether you're an energy development company or you serve them, you can now bypass the “necessary evil” of environmental consulting. Your workflow will become easier, more projects will make it to development, and everyone will experience fewer stress-induced GI issues.

So unless you like being gouged – which, more power to you – we invite you to get in touch and learn about Transect's environmental risk analysis solution today. Our team is standing by.


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