Month: May 2020

What you May not Have Considered about Solar Energy in New England

Hoyle, Tanner is currently providing professional engineering design services for the development of solar energy in New England. We are working for several solar companies as the solar industry has not only taken off in the flatlands of our Midwest United States, but solar energy development is also happening in our New England backyards.

There are many reasons why this industry has recently become so popular. Solar energy has become a viable option because of the sun’s power – but also because of its cost. As the technology of solar energy has become more efficient, the option for purchasing solar power has become a reality to an average energy user.

In order to consider solar options, permitting and procurement need to be considered.

Permitting

Public utilities commissions and state regulators have recently developed and revised rules and regulations for the advancement of solar energy. Hoyle, Tanner has stayed up-to-date with the development of these guidelines so that we can keep our clients educated and able to make sound decisions and reliable investments — not only based on costs, but also permitting success. The probability of getting a project permitted is a major milestone in the progression of a project, and can in many cases can determine if the project ever gets started.

There are many factors that contribute to the permitting and design of a solar array. Following is a list of some major factors that can affect development:

  • What is the size and shape of the property?
  • Is the property located in a properly zoned area or can it be rezoned?
  • Are the soils adequate to develop for this use? Are there significant wetlands? Are they well drained soils?
  • Is the topography adequate for solar development? Is the orientation of the property favorable for solar development?
  • Are there abutting structures on neighboring property that would prevent sunlight from reaching the site?
  • Is there adequate access to the property?
  • Is there access to an existing power source to transmit the power?
  • Are there natural resource protection areas within the site (vernal pools, deer wintering areas, or historic preservation areas)?
  • Does the developer have adequate title to the property?

Hoyle, Tanner has developed several solar array sites being cognizant of all the factors pertaining to a successfully designed and permitted project, while keeping versed of the regulatory processes. With our experience, we can save the client time and money while helping them realize a successful project.

Procurement

In many state governments, there is a procurement process for renewable energy projects (that are part of energy packages). These packages contain guidelines for the development of a limited amount of energy. What we are finding in some states is the need to increase the development limits as demand increases. Hoyle, Tanner is working with state agencies to make sure we are aware of these opportunities so that we may share them with our clients.

In some states there is a procurement process, raising the net metering cap, allowing arrays of up to 5MW — 5,000 KW — to sell or store excess energy. 

Raising the cap is what makes renewable energy development viable for investors, developers, and municipalities. These opportunities to create renewable energy not only lower the states’ dependence on fossil fuels to generate electricity but are also expected to create new jobs in the coming years as the number of projects increase.

Many states look to increase their renewable energy portfolio standard — the amount of renewable electricity created as opposed to that created by fossil fuels — from lows currently at 10% or less to 40% or 80% by 2030 and some even at 100% by 2050.

Helping Developers

We understand the importance of this type of development and the need for development of renewable resources. Our design experience helps the developers understand the limitations of development and of course the permitting process.

Hoyle, Tanner’s experts are here to help. If you have any solar development questions, contact Andy Sturgeon, Vice President and Regional Business Manager.

Celebrating National Endangered Species Day with Awareness of the Canada Lynx

Canada lynx in the snow

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was created in 1973 to protect at-risk species and the habitat those species use to complete their life cycles. This important piece of legislation came out of a growing recognition that the impacts from growth and development were having negative effects on the environment. It was issued shortly after the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, and together these two Acts provide the legal foundation for much of the environmental protection regulations that work to ensure that the many varied ecosystems within the United States remain, or strive to become, healthy, sustainable and well-balanced. 

Together these two Acts provide the legal foundation for much of the environmental protection regulations that work to ensure that the many varied ecosystems within the United States remain, or strive to become, healthy, sustainable and well-balanced. 

Species that are protected under the ESA are either classified as endangered or threatened. Endangered means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Threatened means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. All species of plants and animals, except pest insects, are eligible for listing as endangered or threatened.

The ESA is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for terrestrial and freshwater species, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for marine species. More information on the ESA, including the list of species currently being protected, as well as “candidate” species, which are those proposed for protection, can be found at: https://www.fws.gov/endangered/species/us-species.html.

Our work on a wide variety of projects across six states and a range of habitats requires us to consult with USFWS and NMFS during project planning to ensure that we adhere to the requirements for species protection where necessary.

To determine potential impacts to environmental resources (including several parameters such as water, air quality, and noise) when we begin planning for a project, we review the project site using USFWS and NMFS online mapping. Online mapping helps to determine if there is habitat for a listed species. Each species that is listed under the ESA has a defined land range that is developed from data regarding current habitat needs for that species and species surveys; the result is that not only are locations where the species currently exist protected, but there is also protection offered in areas where the species could survive if their population numbers were to increase.

The result is that not only are locations where the species currently exist protected, but there is also protection offered in areas where the species could survive if their population numbers were to increase.

Projects in northern Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine have the potential to be located within the range of the federally-threatened Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). Canada lynx is a medium-sized cat with long legs, large, well-furred paws, long tufts on the ears, and a short, black-tipped tail. Their long legs and large feet are highly adapted for hunting snowshoe hares (Lepus americana) – their primary prey species – in deep snow conditions. The distribution of lynx in New England is associated with northern forests that are a mix of spruce and balsam fir, among other pine species, some hardwoods such as birch and aspen, and hardwood and softwood trees, such as pine. Lynx are more likely to inhabit landscapes that provide suitable habitat for snowshoe hare populations in regenerating forest environments rather than landscapes with very recent clearcut or partial tree harvests. There are a number of scenarios that may unfold when a project is located within Canada lynx habitat – depending on the size and amount of the project, and how much habitat alteration may occur.

Prior to project inception, we coordinate with USFWS to describe the project and provide details regarding any potential change that may occur to the existing habitat (including tree removal or land clearing and soil excavation). Depending on the amount of potential habitat alteration, we may develop a Biological Assessment to provide to the USFWS. This assessment includes an in-depth analysis of the potential use and value of the habitat within the project area, and helps make a determination of the effect on Canada lynx, both as individuals and as a regional population. Sometimes surveying for lynx within the project area may need to be completed by a wildlife biologist in order to determine if lynx are actively using the land.

If potential habitat exists in the project area but there is a low likelihood of lynx using that habitat, the project may be required to modify the design such that tree removal is limited to the smallest area possible. There may be requirements to complete this clearing at a time when the impact to any potential lynx using the habitat would be the least harmful, such as during seasons when females will not be giving birth. If it is identified that lynx are actively using the project area, then additional coordination with USFWS is necessary to ensure the project will not directly affect those individuals.

We recently completed a Biological Assessment for Canada lynx at the Sugarloaf Regional Airport in Carrabassett Valley, Maine where tree removal within potential lynx habitat was proposed.

We recently completed a Biological Assessment for Canada lynx at the Sugarloaf Regional Airport in Carrabassett Valley, Maine where tree removal within potential lynx habitat was proposed. We worked with USFWS biologists to reduce the potential impacts to this habitat, and any lynx that may be using the area, by strictly limiting the area of tree removal to only that which is necessary to complete this important safety project, to ensure the result will increase the safety of the public using this airport, while also minimizing the risk to Canada lynx.

If you would like to learn more about Canada lynx, or the other species listed under the Endangered Species Act and the steps you can do celebrate Endangered Species Day, check out the USFWS website. Our environmental experts are here to answer your questions and help guide you through the project process while avoiding or minimizing impacts to listed species. Reach out to me and our environmental team will be happy to help.


How Technology has Changed Asset Management Programs in the Last 5 Years

I have worked on asset management projects throughout my 5-year tenure here at Hoyle, Tanner. Although 5 years doesn’t seem like much time, it has been ample time to see evolution in the way asset management programs are used and how they’re needed to function.

Whether it be the funding agency rules, regulatory requirements, or simply the needs of the clients, the asset management landscape has been continuously evolving. Most notably has been the evolution of what clients are requesting from their asset management programs. Before working for Hoyle, Tanner, I worked as a state regulator and my interactions with asset management were primarily in the form of capital planning. An engineer comes in, runs through an evaluation of your assets, and says “Here, these are your priority projects for the next 10 or so years.” Useful for planning purposes? Perhaps. Maximizes the use of your assets? Unrelated.

At the time, I would have considered a box of index cards with your routine maintenance needs that you paw through every month to be a pretty good asset maintenance plan. A GIS system that shows all your assets in the right locations would have been pretty good asset collection; though, let’s be honest, the paper map was probably more updated. 

Through my first few years at Hoyle, Tanner, I started seeing more and more clients developing those index cards. Except now they’re not index cards, they’re calendar reminders. Then, more clients wanted to update those GIS maps and keep them updated. They want to keep track of asset condition. “We check these annually, why can’t we document that and update the GIS info accordingly?”

You can. Let’s create a work order system to document your work on assets and update your asset inventory based on it.

Then came the vertical assets. Clients saw that they could electronically keep track of those horizontal assets, why not your pumps and treatment equipment, too? One of the bigger jumps in the evolution of asset management was information access. Clients have GIS maps, asset inventories, work orders, standard operating procedures, photos, tie books, and now they wanted to access all of this information out in the field.

Along with this request for improved information access came the request for interconnectivity of data. “When I submit a work order, can that automatically update my condition assessment?” Sure, let’s figure out how.

We have now reached a point where we have made the connection between asset maintenance programs and asset planning: true asset management.

We have now reached a point where we have made the connection between asset maintenance programs and asset planning: true asset management. We’re now associating life expectancy and finance with how those assets are maintained. As a result, we are now seeing a return to that capital planning need. Except it’s no longer a dead binder sitting on a shelf for 10 years, it is a moving list that’s updated based on changes logged in the asset management program. During annual budgeting, we’re seeing more clients looking to their asset management programs to make short- and long-term investment decisions.

But has asset management really changed? What has really come to my attention is that the fundamentals of asset management have not changed, only where we are in the process. We work with a multitude of asset management clients, and although many have reached the point of software, work orders, and financial planning, many are still just trying to develop that inventory. Once they get that inventory, they want that automatic updating and the interconnected work orders. As asset management programs improve (better technology, better connectivity, etc.), we want more from them and the evolution continues.

For Additional Resources:

Employee Spotlight: Diane Ryan

Diane Ryan, Project Assistant and Devoted Mother/Grandmother
1.  What drew you to Hoyle, Tanner?
Flexible scheduling (mother’s hours).
2. What’s something invaluable you’ve learned here?
It takes effort on everyone’s part to complete projects on time and within budget, and communication is key.
3. What’s your favorite time of year to work at Hoyle, Tanner?
Summer because you can open the windows and let in the fresh air and go outside and take a walk and refresh yourself.
4. What’s the coolest thing you are working on?
Nothing really cool about accounting.  Just billing and trying to find revenue.
5. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far this week?
Seeing the grandchildren.
6. How many different states have you lived in?
2- Massachusetts and New Hampshire
7. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?
Chicken with a baked potato and broccoli..
8. What kind of pet do you have and how did you choose to name it?
We have a cat named Sheba – it’s my daughter’s and she named her.
9. What is a fun or interesting fact about your hometown?
The only thing I can think of is my older granddaughter lived in Tewksbury, Massachusetts as a little girl and my middle granddaughter lives there now. I’ve been gone over 40 years so not sure of too much going on there.
10. What are three things still left on your bucket list?
1. Traveling
2. Once I retire I want to hold babies in the NICU
3. Spend a lot of time with family and friends
11. Name three items you’d take with you to a desert island
1. Food
2. Phone
3. Family
12. What characteristic do you admire most in others?
Honesty.
13. How old is the oldest item in your closet?
A dress I wore to a wedding about 10 years.
14. Words to live by? Favorite quote?
“Treat others the way you want to be treated .” – Anonymous
15. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A mother
16. If you were to skydive from an airplane what would you think about on the way down?
I hope I make it.