Geothermal Feasibility

Renewable Energy Match: Combining Clean Energy Exploration & Detailed Economic Analysis in a One-of-a-Kind Tool

By Jen Holmstadt, Senior Project Manager, WSB

With more and more businesses setting comprehensive sustainability goals that include net-zero carbon emissions, many are unsure what is the best way to achieve those goals or what renewable energy investment will be most effective. Sustainability investment should be data driven and can be done in a way that both protects the environment and a business’ bottom line. 

WSB and iD8 have partnered to create a new one-of-a-kind analysis – Renewable Energy Match – that provides clients with a full understanding of renewable energy options, and comprehensive data analysis to drive financial-based decision-making. It goes beyond traditional energy evaluation by combining economic data with place-based environmental information.

Explore clean energy options that meet your needs.

Many companies exploring clean energy solutions often first look to solar and wind energy. Those are excellent renewable energy sources, but there is also untapped potential in sources like hydrogen, geothermal energy, and renewable natural gas. 

Every organization has different needs when it comes to renewable energy, so a plan that is customized to individual needs, takes into account location, and is driven by thorough research and data is critical. 

How Renewable Energy Match works.

Most companies base their renewable energy decisions off financial feasibility. WSB has taken that concept further and developed a 4-phase approach to determine which renewable energy option is best for each specific client. The process includes:

  1. First-order feasibility study This first step provides a high-level geospatial analysis of the area the client is operating within to determine what resources are available for renewable energy production. It includes iD8 financial assessments for each energy form and an overall optimization for each energy.  A risk assessment of external factors that could influence the performance of energy sources is also part of this phase. 
  2. Strategic Planning This stage provides a deeper exploration of local energy resources that are available, as well as their acquisition costs, parcel ownership, local energy grids, climate analysis, and more. 
  3. Final Design & Regulatory Planning Once the strategic plan is complete, infrastructure planning and design, environmental and resource assessments, and land permitting can begin.
  4. Energy implementation The final phase is to begin energy production and implementation at the selected facility. 

Who can benefit from Renewable Energy Match?

There are many types of businesses and organizations that can benefit from Renewable Energy Match including companies with net-zero goals, businesses with multiple facilities or campuses, universities, utilities, and companies looked to expand their energy renewable energy portfolios..

This one-of-a-kind analysis allows clients to strategically explore the costs, sources, and options around renewable energy on a digital platform, and advance investments that will best meet the needs of a client from both an economic and sustainability perspective. 

Want to learn more about Renewable Energy Match? Check out our website to explore more, contact a WSB expert, or schedule a demo

Jen Holmstadt has been a project manager and geomorphologist in the oil/gas and transportation industries for over fifteen years. Her experience characterizing and remediating contaminated soils/sediments on large river projects, led Jen to focus on designing and implementing geohazard risk assessment programs.

jholmstadt@wsbeng.com | 612.619.9215

Solar-Renewable Energy

Is Your Community Ready for Solar Energy

By Eric Zweber, Sr Project Manager and Amy Fredregill, Sr Director of Sustainability, WSB

Solar energy systems, such as solar panel arrays, are becoming increasingly less expensive to install and are generating more energy than before. The lower initial investment is resulting in a shorter time required for the savings on your city’s electricity bill to cover the initial cost of installation. In the long run, solar energy systems save money, generate jobs, and provide clean energy to your citizens. The low maintenance costs, economic stimulation and many other benefits make solar energy a strong option.

Here are four things to consider when exploring solar energy options for your city:

  • How do your citizens, businesses and other stakeholders feel about climate and renewable energy? How do you expect that to change in the future?              
    • Renewable energy options may be one way to advance your community’s climate and sustainability goals and interests, while meeting the needs of a range of stakeholders.
  • Does your electricity provider have a green tariff, green power program, or net energy monitoring program?
    • These programs partner with cities and businesses to provide the best value for renewable energy. Exploring which options your electricity provider may have can save on cost, and ensure you are maximizing your resources.
  • Is increasing awareness and education a goal of your energy program?
    • If so, onsite solar generation can have an even stronger business case due to the local visibility it provides.
  • How will investment tax credits (ITCs) and solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) be capitalized within your project investment?      
    • Municipalities can have difficulties recovering incentives such as ITCs and SRECs. Exploring potential partnerships prior to installation can create funding opportunities to shorten your payback period.

Every solar energy solution looks different. For community leaders facing challenges and planning for the future, it can be difficult to know when and where to start. When we partner with clients, we help them explore what opportunities their community can tap into for solar energy considerations.

Eric has over 20 years experience with community planning, renewable energy, and sustainability projects. He has worked cooperatively with a number renewable energies developers to develop both solar and wind resources and is a past board member of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industrial Association (MnSEIA). He has a passion for sustainable and resilient practices to address the needs of communities and larger public.

ezweber@wsbeng.com | 612.581.0504

Amy has over 20 years of experience across many industries, particularly energy and agriculture, in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. This experience has provided Amy with a broad background that enables her to meet community and business needs based on the business case for sustainability. By working across intersecting systems to simultaneously advance environmental, economic and social goals, she is able to uncover creative solutions.

afredregill@wsbeng.com | 612.965.1489

Solar-Renewable Energy

Supporting a Cleaner World Through Resiliency

THE BUSINESS CASE FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY STRATEGIES.

By Amy Fredregill, Sr. Director of Sustainability and Brigid Lynch, Geomorphologist/Climatologist Hazard Specialist, WSB

With the release of the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the need for businesses, governments, and civilians to accelerate their efforts to build greener economies and avoid a global climate crisis is clear. Businesses and all levels of government are seeing increased climate risk along with demand from customers and community members to find innovative solutions that reduce emissions in energy, transport, and other industries.

The primary strategy to prepare for the future includes increasing energy and water efficiency and creating renewable energy plans while simultaneously managing the impacts that have already reached us, like an increase in extreme weather events.

Renewables and the economy.

Companies and consumers are becoming more selective of who they choose to work with and purchase from, focusing on carbon footprints and those committed to renewable goals, driving growth, and encouraging companies to be innovative. The future of renewables is booming and will ultimately reduce cost and risk, meeting the wants and needs of the consumer. Local governments are also strategically transitioning their operations to be more climate friendly, including securing renewable energy.

Developing predictive tools.

In response to extreme weather events and changing demands, WSB is developing a GIS-based tool to help businesses and government entities strategically transition their operations to renewable energy sources. The tool adapts to client needs and allows them to select which renewable sources should be included in their renewable plans. The tool is predictive, incorporating climate change projections that will affect energy production and operations in the future, and integrates cost and benefits of different sources of renewable energy technologies.

The new tool produces energy production calculations, climate risk assessments and suitability rankings. This data helps companies identify where the risks lie, so they can achieve their future goals, make informed decisions, and come up with solutions to achieve those goals.

The future of renewable energy.

According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy currently makes up 26% of the world’s electricity, but that share is expected to grow to nearly 30% by 2024. As the demand for renewable energy sources and strategies grows, we have the unique opportunity to support a greener world, reduce cost and risk and meet customer demands.

Amy Fredregill
Sr Director of Sustainability
afredregill@wsbeng.com

Brigid Lynch
Geomorphologist/Climatologist Hazard Specialist
blynch@wsbeng.com

Environmental impacts of wind farm development

Alison Harwood, WSB

When beginning the development of a wind farm, it’s not just the physical design of a property you should consider, but the environmental factors as well.

Consider the eagles before development

As environmental scientists, our role is to inform our clients about the risks to natural resources and wildlife; in particular, avian life. Using information about the natural environment, we can provide recommendations to our clients for ideal locations to construct potential wind turbines. Wind energy infrastructure can pose a great risk to birds and eagles and our research helps protect them from turbine injuries and/or fatalities. If an eagle is killed or injured by a windmill, the wind farm owner may be in violation of a federal law and face a penalty.

Wind farm eagle surveys

WSB has recently been collecting data about the presence of golden and bald eagles at a wind farm project in Montana. In recent surveys, golden eagles have been observed at the 6,000-acre site and are potentially at-risk from the wind farm development. Golden and bald eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Act created in 1940 (and expanded to include goldens in 1962). When protected species are found to be present on a development site, an extensive two-year study, data analysis and risk calculations must be considered prior to development.

WSB understands and adheres to the recommendations and guidance of the region 6 USFWS and the 2013 Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance when conducting site assessments for eagle use at potential wind farm locations.

Two-year data collection

This past September, we began a two-year process of raptor point count surveys to study eagle land and air usage at the wind farm site. Our environmental scientists visit Montana monthly to collect data regarding eagle activity at the site location. Field work during these evaluations includes visual eagle activity surveys, eagle nest surveys, and eagle prey abundance observation that can be used to identify the impacts of a wind farm on avian life.

We compile and record information about the weather conditions, species sitings, eagle flight paths, eagle behavior, and age class. Our scientists are not only measuring avian activity but also noting whether eagle prey, such as antelope and prairie dogs, are present. We then analyze, compile, and summarize the data for our clients. At the end of the two-year study, all data will be analyzed forecasting the potential risk to eagles from wind farm development. If risk levels are high, the client can apply for an eagle take permit through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and develop an Eagle Conservation Plan for the site.

Eagle safety is our top priority

Not all wind farms require an extensive two-year study as each potential site is different. If protected species, such as eagles, or species of concern aren’t present or observed at the site, the above approach may not be required. When risk levels for harming avian and raptor life are low, the process of wind farm development and construction can be streamlined.

This renewable energy source poses less risk to birds and wildlife than other energy sources, but it’s important to take the necessary precautions before development begins. Our environmental scientists evaluate conservation risks and make evidence-based recommendations for research, best management practices and siting locations that protect avian species with a low amount of risk. The goal for wind farm development is to help our clients develop renewable energy resources while reducing impacts to wildlife.

Environmental Scientist, Jordan Wein explains how tracking the activity of raptors can support wind farm development and minimize the risk to raptors and other birds.

Effects of Solar Gardens on Vegetation

Roxy Robertson, Environmental Scientist, WSB

Uncovering the potential issue

In the past few years, there has been a push to utilize renewable energy resources. In Minnesota and other states, there has been legislation to require some of this renewable energy to come from solar. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Minnesota ranks 13th in the nation for megawatt production, producing 1,140 MW of energy from solar. This push for solar has resulted in the development of small-scale and community solar gardens which construct panels across a variety of landscapes, including low-lying wetland areas. 

In Minnesota, there are rules and regulations for impacts to wetlands that include regulations surrounding the placement of a structure in a wetland. These rules are outlined in the Wetland Conservation Act (WCA). The WCA allows the construction of some panels in wetland areas depending on the type of impact, but regulation of these impacts is highly variable throughout the state due to lack of specific language regarding whether solar panels truly cause wetland impacts. There are opinions that suggest that the installation of solar panels within wetlands affect the quality of the wetland vegetation under the panels over time. In addition to these regulations, the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) also has standards that encourage developers of solar fields to plant vegetation that benefits pollinators.

Currently, there isn’t any research that explores the direct impact of solar panels on wetland vegetation. From small community solar gardens to large utility scale solar gardens, the energy generated can benefit communities, but what is the impact on the underlying vegetation? If solar panels are placed in a degraded wetland such as a farm field, would the installation of panels and native seed mixes improve the quality of wetland vegetation?

Where is the research?

The lack of research explaining direct impacts that solar installations have on vegetation is a challenge for scientists and engineers. Through communication with regulators and developers, we have discovered there is room for growth and study in this area, and it is a topic that needs continued exploration. This data gap has led us to develop our own vegetation studies at community solar gardens. This data is imperative if we are to continue to rely on solar energy resources. Without current guidelines that outline negative or positive effects, we are unsure of the long-term overall environmental impacts to vegetation quality under solar panels, which in turn affects the quality of natural habitat and functional benefits provided by the landscape. How do energy companies know if they are impacting the environment that surrounds solar gardens? Pursuing funding for extensive research has been challenging for those who are curious about the effects of installation of solar technology on surrounding vegetation. Even after preliminary research, many questions remain surrounding the shading of solar panels and vegetation, direct impacts, and long-term effects.

What does this mean for the future?

SEIA projects that Minnesota’s solar energy consumption will grow by 845 megawatts within the next five years. Financial support to continue this research is necessary and will allow scientists to uncover data at solar sites that does not yet exist. With this data, we can better understand the environment, impact of projects on vegetation, and develop tools to distinguish impacts. Developers looking for land will better understand the risks involved when building a solar garden on or near a wetland. As need and desire for renewable energy increases, more energy companies will implement solar. However, if we are not aware of the impacts solar gardens have, how will we know if there is an additional cost to the environment? Knowing areas to avoid allows companies to be certain of regulations, save time and money, and limit impacts to surrounding wetlands. We are continuing to complete research to better understand the impacts and benefits of solar arrays on underlying vegetation. 

Roxy is an environmental scientist and certified wetland delineator. She has a master’s degree in ecology and is a Certified Associate Ecologist . She has completed numerous wetland delineations and has experience with wetland monitoring, ecological restoration design, environmental site assessments, field research, biological surveys, ArcGIS mapping, and GPS Trimble.