Increasing renewable energy generation in Canada’s remote communities

Written by: Nelson Debogorski and Mike Peckford

In Canada’s North, nearly 300 communities, or about 200,000 people, aren’t connected to the electricity grid and depend primarily on diesel fuel to generate their heat and power. Diesel generation is reliable but also costly, dangerous to ship, and harmful to the environment when burned for energy through the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). As such, there is an ongoing effort, supported by federal, provincial and territorial governments, to transition these communities from diesel power to a mix of more renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydropower or biomass. Since 2012 Hemmera has utilized its local presence in Canada’s North to collaborate with communities, including Indigenous nations, to help decrease the reliance on diesel in the north, to the extent practical.

In this article, we examine examples of renewable energy opportunities in Canada’s North and how the region is moving towards energy independence

 

Construction

 

The case for renewable energy in Canada’s North

To date, many of the renewable energy projects developed in Canada’s North are significantly smaller in scale than those developed in other parts of the country. They are also more expensive to construct for a variety of reasons such as their remote locations and harsh climates. Historically, many of these renewable energy projects have lacked economic feasibility but have been constructed with financial subsidies from governments. With the ever-decreasing costs of developing renewable projects, the need for those subsidies are also continuing to decrease.

Governments have a socio-political interest in supporting energy independence in Canada’s North. Renewable energy projects align with the Federal Government’s goal of decreasing GHG emissions, reaching our Paris Agreement commitments, and improving electricity and heating infrastructure in remote communities. It also supports the creation of sustainable employment opportunities assisting in northern population growth.

A good example of how renewable energy projects can support these goals is the Southern Lakes Enhanced Storage Concept in Yukon. Southern Lakes is the largest watershed in the territory, managed partially as a reservoir for Yukon Energy. Yukon Energy aims to increase the amount of water used to generate renewable electricity at the Whitehorse Rapids Generating Station in the winter and early spring when electrical demand is at the highest, displacing diesel and decreasing harmful emissions.

The project’s environmental and socio-economic assessment, which Hemmera coordinated, included Territorial and federal regulatory processes, aboriginal consultation and involved about two dozen internal and sub-contractor technical specialists. The Yukon government is set to make a decision on the project shortly, which includes mitigation measures for issues identified during consultation activities. The project is expected to provide enough hydroelectrical energy to power 500 homes, reduce GHG emissions by 3,100 tonnes annually, and save taxpayers $1 million per year in diesel and natural gas costs.

Another example is the Inuvik Wind Project, which will provide renewable energy to the town of Inuvik, north of the Arctic Circle. Electrical generation in the community of Inuvik is currently provided by diesel

and natural gas. The wind project — which includes the construction and operation of a 3.5 megawatt wind turbine, an all-season road, transmission line, electrical system upgrades and an energy storage system — is a key initiative in the Government of Northwest Territories (GWT’s) 2030 Energy Strategy to reduce fossil fuel consumption in remote NWT communities.

Hemmera worked with the GWT, under the Nihtat Corporation (an aboriginal company), to design and permit the project through baseline data collection, community/Indigenous engagement and assessment and permitting. It is anticipated that the project will offset 3 million liters of diesel annually, resulting in $3.4-million savings from reduced diesel consumption and 6,500-tonne reduction of GHGs.

 

Yukon sky

 

Working toward energy independence

At Hemmera, we take great pride in our work helping communities in Canada’s North take the much-needed steps towards energy independence. We work with stakeholders to ensure communities are actively engaged in their energy needs and choices. We actively seek to understand how indigenous groups want to be engaged and proceed with engagement in a way that reflects their goals and values.

Based on years of experience, our team understands the risks and challenges of developing renewable projects in remote northern communities – and appreciates that each has its own set of unique values, traditions, priorities, concerns and regulatory requirements. Hemmera’s staff, located in our Whitehorse and Yellowknife offices, provide local knowledge, technical expertise and a deep understanding of the regulatory process to ensure projects are developed safely, responsibly, cost-effectively, and get regulatory approval.


Our experience

Hemmera, a subsidiary of Ausenco, is a recognized leader in providing environmental support to the renewable energy sector including wind energy, solar, small hydro, run-of-river, and associated transmission projects. Our dedicated team has earned a reputation as an industry leader in providing exceptional community engagement, social sciences and regulatory expertise to renewable stakeholders. We value community engagement that recognizes stakeholder culture and values and understand that meaningful stakeholder input is an integral component to a project.


Our team of experts are ready to help, reach out to
the team to learn more. 


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Involving the host community in your project

Written by: Charlie Palmer, Practice Leader, Environmental Impact Assessment and Cheryl Forner, Senior Human Environment Specialist

As most of us know, effective and meaningful engagement is fundamental to the success of any renewable energy project. Working collaboratively with those affected by the development of a renewable energy project is key to its success and can add value to the planning, construction, and operation phases for the owner.

In this article, we discuss the benefits of engagement for the owner as well as for local individuals, communities and businesses. 

Start engagement early 

Whether or not engagement is a legislated requirement for your project (in most jurisdictions, it is), taking steps towards meaningful engagement is a best practice and provides benefits beyond meeting project approval requirements 

Engagement works best when it begins early in the project planning process, ideally as soon as preliminary information is ready to provide to host communities. Starting early supports project transparency and enables host communities and other interested parties to better engage with project planning and for owners to hear their opinions as part of the planning process 

People who liveplay, work and own businesses in the area around proposed project know the local environment and can support project decisionmaking through theifirsthand knowledge of the physicalcultural and business environments. Their lived context can support site decisions, construction methods, contracting and hiring practices, as well as community benefit decisions.  

An example is a wind farm construction project we worked on, which benefited hugely from the involvement of local contractors. Their knowledge of the best local road building methods helped to avoid a site shutdown during an extreme rain event that forced construction stoppage on neighbouring sites. 

 

Establishing an effective engagement process 

The key to successful engagement is to provide effective ways for individuals and communities to connect with project ownersMeaningful engagement requires adopting active listening practices and the deliberate incorporation of what has been learned into project design, construction, and operation. 

We’ve seen the best results from engagement when the owner designates one experienced contact person for the community to connect with — a consistent presence with authority to speak for and make commitments on behalf of the owner. It’s also crucial that owners follow-up with individuals, community leaders and others who have engaged with the project and who have provided inputStaying connected gives the community confidence that you’re serious about wanting to hear what they have to say and about becoming part of the community you’re asking to host your project 

Tailor-made engagement strategies 

Hemmera tailors engagement strategies to each project that we work on and for each community that our clients and we work in. We know that what works in one region or local environment may not be the best course of action somewhere else, or that engagement for a project in more of an urban area isn’t necessarily appropriate for one in a rural community or an Indigenous community.  

Walso know that incorporating local capacity building, business opportunities and employment are often key components to project success. Local businesses can provide  the provision of services like snow clearing and road maintenance and, given their proximity to the project, they can deliver these types of services more efficiently and at lower cost than imported service providers. We’ve developed remote oversight methods, including using tablets to reduce the costs of professional biologists being on site, and allow for Indigenous and other local individuals to get involved in monitoring – with no loss in service quality and cost savings.  

For many years we’ve also seen community engagement built into the ownership structure of renewable energy projects, including shared ownership and/or profit-sharing arrangements, making early and continuous engagement even more critical to the project’s success.  

At Hemmera, walso help owners get more involved in their host communitiesWe know from experience the benefitof owners participating in local events, sporting activities, and community beautification initiatives before and well after the project enters the operation phase. Our team of engagement practitioners support owners in becoming an integral part of the communities where they do business. We work collaboratively with owners to design and execute engagement programs that are locally specific and sustainable.  

Our next article in this series looks at solving renewable energy challenges with wildlife such as raptors and bats. 


Our experience

Hemmera, a subsidiary of Ausenco, is a recognized leader in providing environmental support to the renewable energy sector including wind energy, solar, small hydro, run-of-river developments, and associated transmission projects. For more than two decades, our talented, dedicated and experienced impact assessment teams have supported many of Canada’s largest and most challenging projects. Our depth of experience and multi-disciplinary approach allow us to steer projects through the complex assessment and regulatory processes – on time and on budget.


Our team of experts are ready to help, reach out to
Charlie Palmer and Cheryl Forner to learn more. 

Other articles in the series:

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Regional Differences in Environmental Assessments for Renewables

Written by: Mike Peckford, Business Leader, Atlantic Canada/National Lead Renewable Energy and Tyler Reid, Environmental Planning and Ecology Team Manager / Project Manager 

Understanding environmental risk is critical for any renewable energy project. As discussed in the first article in this series, projects can be delayed, incur costly mitigation requirements, or even denied if environmental concerns aren’t properly addressed.

Environmental assessment (EA) requirements typically vary by province or within regions of a province, depending on variability of the enforcement of provincial regulations, the location of sensitive habitats, as well as public sentiment. As the renewable energy team at Hemmera has experienced, elements that lead to a renewable energy project being approved in Ontario may differ in provinces like Saskatchewan or British Columbia. In Alberta, we’ve also seen regulatory bodies apply new, and unique, regulatory policies, standards and best management practices to renewable energy projects compared to those required by other industry sectors.

These regional and sector differences require renewable developers to have in-depth knowledge of the area where they want to develop their projects, including the unique regulatory and community engagement processes. Hemmera has worked with project developers and stakeholders across the country to mitigate and manage varying environmental risks ranging from preserving sensitive species habitats to native grassland.

Workington Coastline

Here we take a look at some of our work across Canada, in particular the North, the Prairies and the Maritimes:

Regional Differences Need to be Understood

Most provinces and territories approach their EA processes differently, based on their unique environmental landscape and regulations. For instance, Yukon has a co-management permitting approach where projects are reviewed and approved by the Indigenous community in which the proposed project is located. In provinces like British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, the provincial government handles EA applications and approvals. In the Maritimes, while each province handles its own approvals, there is typically a closer relationship with federal environmental agencies offering advisory services compared to other regions of the country. Lastly, projects located on federal lands (i.e., First Nation Reserve lands), or very large projects that are designated under the federal Physical Activities Regulation, will require federal environmental review and approval.

Below are some examples of the key differences in achieving project approvals within three regions across the country:

• North: Each of the territories has its own EA requirements and processes that have evolved from modern Indigenous land claims. Developers must work directly with Indigenous and local communities to decrease risks to their project approval and construction. Effective collaboration with Indigenous communities requires deep local knowledge of the area, the people, their priorities and values. We support our clients to understand how their projects can benefit local people and communities, whether it is an investment opportunity, energy independence, training or employment.

Based on our experience working with Indigenous groups within the territory, and wind energy projects in particular, Hemmera was chosen to conduct the traditional knowledge and traditional land-use study for the Inuvik Wind Project, working with the Government of Northwest Territories and Nihtat Corporation. As the lead environmental, socio-economic and assessment/permitting consultant for the project, Hemmera was responsible for building a regulatory roadmap from design to construction, including responsibility for all regulatory aspects of the project, except consultation. Our team effectively engaged federal, territorial and Gwich’in governments regarding the scope of design of environmental studies and completed intensive migratory bird surveys, grizzly bear denning and incidental wildlife observations while managing vegetation mapping — elements that were unique to the territory.

Prairies (Alberta and Saskatchewan): Alberta has a very prescriptive EA process that reflects its direct to permit framework that allows commencement of construction upon approval. By way of contrast, Saskatchewan has a two-stage EA review process where project applications with minor impacts are screened out without incurring a more detailed assessment. In recent years, the government of Alberta updated its regulatory processes for renewable project development, which is managed by the Alberta Utilities Commission. Hemmera has helped renewable energy developers in Alberta to understand and interpret these changes to benefit their developments. An example is our work with TransAlta Corp.’s 206 MW Windrise Wind Project near Fort MacLeod, Alberta, which is set to begin operations mid-2021. Our team prepared the project’s environmental evaluation report, outlining the area’s environmental components, potential adverse effects, developed project-specific mitigation measures and proposed construction and operation monitoring. The approach we developed to create the environmental evaluation incorporated Alberta Environment and Parks feedback into the AUC submission, thereby reducing review timelines and information requests from the AUC. This approach helped TransAlta gain the fastest ever approval for a wind project from the Alberta Utilities Commission.

Maritimes: The Nova Scotia government has recently updated regulations to allow for future growth of the renewable sector in the province. Given this positioning, Hemmera has established a stronger presence and expertise in the Maritimes region, bringing our decades of experience to the region to support our clients that are exploring the region for opportunities. A somewhat unique regulatory requirement for recently approved wind energy projects in the Maritimes is the use of marine radar to assess the potential collision risk to migratory birds. To help streamline this assessment requirement, our Nova Scotia based staff is positioned to assist with local experts to complete a multi-year, Nova Scotia wide, migratory bird and wind energy risk assessment, scheduled to begin in 2021. If this project proceeds, it will provide valuable region-specific information on bird movements to inform decision making by both wind energy developers and regulators, and aid in the siting of future wind energy projects in areas of least potential risk for migratory species. The goals of the project will be to help identify areas of lower environmental risk, streamline the EA approval process, minimize operational mitigation activities such as curtailment, and ultimately help reduce the uncertainty projects face regarding overall feasibility.

Yukon mountain road


Local expertise helps promote project success

Hemmera’s EA teams have been on the ground for years, helping many of Canada’s largest and most challenging renewable energy projects cross the finish line. Our expertise and multi-disciplinary approach help steer projects through the complex assessment and regulatory processes on time and on budget. We also work collaboratively with stakeholders, including governments, industry, local communities, and Indigenous peoples, to deliver the best outcome for all parties.

Whatever your power project and regardless of what stage it’s in, Hemmera has the capacity and the capability to assemble the qualified, knowledgeable and experienced team required to minimize delays, smooth the path to environmental compliance, and deliver project success.

Our next article will look more closely at understanding EA commitments and how they impact construction and operation.


Our experience

Our experience Hemmera, a subsidiary of Ausenco, is a recognized leader in providing environmental support to the renewable energy sector including wind energy, solar, small hydro, run-of-river developments, and associated transmission projects. We are experienced in managing environmental reviews under BC’s Environmental Assessment Act, Alberta’s Hydro and Electric Energy Act, Yukon’s Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, and the Impact Assessment Act. We have also completed many joint reviews and audits of proposed and operational projects.

Our team of experts are ready to help, reach out to Mike Peckford or Charlie Palmer to learn more. 


Other articles in the series:

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Solving renewable energy wildlife challenges

Written by: Mike Enright, Tyler Reid and Mike Peckford

A key consideration in developing a renewable energy project is understanding its potential impact on wildlife (e.g., birds and bats) and wildlife habitats (e.g., wetlands and native grasslands). The approval of wind, solar and other renewable projects is contingent on, in part, demonstrating the avoidance or mitigation of potential negative effects to wildlife and wildlife habitat. For those impacts that can’t be avoided, it’s often necessary to monitor the effectiveness of mitigation and assess predicted effects during operation to allow for adaptive management and the implementation of corrective actions. Corrective actions need careful consideration to balance their ability to reduce wildlife impacts with their influence on the economic viability of the facility.

Hemmera has helped numerous project owners create and assess mitigation strategies (see our discussion on project commitments here) to reduce potential impacts on wildlife and wildlife habitat across various project stages — from permitting to operations. Our expert teams provide the experience and analysis required to get projects approved and keep projects operating optimally.

This article will discuss some of the common wildlife-related challenges that renewable energy project owners encounter when developing, constructing, and operating projects across Canada.

 

 

Common wildlife issues encountered by project owners

The most prevalent wildlife issue that project owners encounter during the permitting and operation stages of a wind project include predicted or actual mortality rates of raptor and bat species. Here we discuss the typical impacts observed on both groups and provide examples of solutions our team has developed to benefit both project owners and wildlife:

  • Challenges of raptor mitigation

Raptors (a term encapsulating birds of prey such as hawks, eagles and falcons) are common throughout Canada. Allowable regulated thresholds of mortality during operation are typically low; because of this, we have observed some projects experience delays in receiving approval or have curtailments imposed during operation. Predicting raptor impacts during operation based on pre-construction data is difficult as impacts tend to be highly variable, site- and species-specific, and may occur during all seasons related to differences in migration, nesting or foraging habits of the species found at the Project.

Hemmera’s experts have been engaged by owners on multiple projects, with positive results, to provide third-party advice to develop options to mitigate impacts on these species, to conduct independent behavioural studies of the local bird populations, and to develop solutions to reduce mortality. In doing so, we’ve developed innovative ways to solve the issue of raptors interacting with operational wind facilities. For instance, at one wind project, our team developed a simple yet creative and cost effective solution to provide nesting material and artificial nest platforms in relatively safe locations near the project site, resulting in reduced collisions with turbines. We have also assessed species-specific behaviours related to carrion and perch availability and created a carrion removal plan and retrofitted above-ground transmission lines with perch deterrents to manipulate raptor behaviour within the project area to keep birds safe.

  • Understanding bat mitigation

Bat species, particularly migratory bat species, have been identified as species of concern from wind energy developments for most jurisdictions in North America. In contrast to raptors, patterns of bat impacts are often predictable: the impacts are typically most prominent for migratory species during the fall migration season. The greatest uncertainty when predicting bat impacts is the magnitude. While a post-construction monitoring and mitigation plan for bats is typically required prior to operation, the most appropriate approach to implementing bat mitigation (if required) is to assess the results of post-construction monitoring to obtain an accurate assessment of the impacts before implementing mitigation measures. While bat deterrents and smart curtailment systems are becoming more accepted by regulators and more widely used by industry, operational curtailment (i.e., increasing turbine cut-in speed) is still the most commonly utilized mitigation. Also, the percent reduction of fatalities with an increase in a specific turbine cut-in speed can be predicted using available published data to allow wind operators to understand the resultant production loss as a result of the strategies they may need to employ. These strategies can be further explored and adapted to meet specific attributes of the facility.

At Hemmera, we understand the importance of working closely with project owners and their energy production modeling specialists to design bat mitigation strategies that can successfully reduce bat fatalities while maximizing power production. For example, by identifying bat fatality risk levels based on site-specific variables (season, time of day, weather, turbine location to habitat features, etc.), operators can choose to employ different cut-in speeds at different intervals. The result is a somewhat predictable reduction of bat fatality rates and power generation. Hemmera’s experts bring together an understanding of how bat life-history behaviours, site-specific data, and the flexibility of regulatory adaptive management approaches can be brought together to develop a viable plan to reduce impacts to migratory bats from project operations while maintaining the viability of the project.

 

Moose Lake Development

 

Helping owners find wildlife solutions

Our work helps project owners effectively manage their operations, save time and resources, and maintain the necessary social license to operate in today’s society. As part of a renewable energy project’s role in the transition to a low-carbon economy, Hemmera understands that each project must be socially and environmentally responsible and respect the communities in which they operate.

At Hemmera, we are committed to helping our clients achieve their goals of remaining responsible renewable energy project owners. We help them understand and manage their environmental commitments throughout the lifecycle of a project. Our experience also proves that we don’t just analyze and monitor the projects we work on but often develop innovative solutions to solve our clients’ problems.

In the final article of this series, we’ll discuss how our team helps communities in Canada’s North transition away from diesel power and toward renewable energy alternatives.

Our experience

Hemmera, a subsidiary of Ausenco, is a recognized leader in providing environmental support to the renewable energy sector including wind energy, solar, small hydro, run-of-river developments and associated transmission projects. For more than two decades, our talented, dedicated and experienced impact assessment teams have supported many of Canada’s largest and most challenging projects.

We are experienced in managing environmental reviews and have completed many joint reviews and audits of proposed and operational projects. Our depth of experience and multi-disciplinary approach allow us to steer projects through the complex assessment and regulatory processes – on time and on budget.


Our team of experts are ready to help, reach out to
the team to learn more. 


Other articles in the series:

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Understanding environmental risks early in a project and planning for successful operation

Written by: Mike Enright, Business Leader, Environmental Planning and Ecology

While no two renewable projects are the same, including their environmental and permitting requirements, there are similar themes that arise during the approval, construction and operation of most Canadian wind and solar projects that require careful management. Using an experienced team and pro-active approaches that successfully address these themes, Hemmera works collaboratively with renewable energy firms to solve complex environmental legislation, stakeholder and project design challenges.

The renewable energy team at Hemmera has observed the development life cycle of projects play out many times over the past two decades in different regulatory jurisdictions and have developed successful strategies to overcome project risks — both real and perceived. Early environmental investigations and discussions with regulators as well as local stakeholders in advance of undertaking the formal approvals process is often critical to the success of a project.

The specific challenges faced by a particular project can vary by fuel type, generating capacity of a component, project geographic extent, environmental values in the surrounding landscape and host community. Using fuel type as a basic example, wind projects tend to have a small area of direct impact on wildlife habitat but concern over possible direct impacts to birds and bats during operation are often points of contention. Similarly, turbine noise and shadow flicker require study in the context of the surrounding community. In contrast, solar facilities comprise a larger physical footprint and thus have the potential for greater direct impact on existing wildlife habitat but concern during operation (i.e., mortality events) is much less. The earlier in the development cycle that developers understand their project’s environmental risks, the more flexibility there is in how potential issues can be resolved with the local community and regulators.


Benefits of early planning and strategies for overcoming risks

Incorporating environmental attributes into the development process as early as possible is critical to improving the success of the project. We regularly see project developers underestimate a potential risk only to have it become an unnecessary hurdle later in the development process. Undertaking small but strategic preliminary studies as early in the process as possible can have a profound positive effect on the approval schedule as well as reduce permitting and engineering costs. A pro-active environmental permitting strategy can assist with improving community sentiment and translate into social license for the project. It also helps to identify possible issues that require consultation with regulators in advance of submitting supporting documentation.

Understanding possible environmental design constraints during site prospecting is one of the best ways to abate environmental risks. Understanding environmental constraints helps inform the size of facility that can likely be realized (i.e. generating capacity) and the development of a sound strategy around permitting. A well thought out permitting strategy often has the benefit of increasing the efficiency of other project tasks which follow, saving time and money.

Where a site is already identified, environmental information collected early can inform preliminary design thus avoiding costly redesigns of key project component later in the approvals process when the design has been subject to greater investment. Where environmental attributes cannot be avoided, alternatives and mitigation to minimize or control the effects can be developed. A design that considers environmental constraints and demonstrates avoidance measures can reduce future permitting and approval efforts and tends to expedite regulatory support.

Whether during site prospecting or once a development site has been identified, a good understanding of possible environmental issues can bring to light regulatory requirements or commitments that may need to be agreed to for the purpose of complying with certain legislation. Understanding these commitments early help refine strategies to de-risk the project. One example is a wind facility proposed near bat habitat. Depending on the outcome of the environmental assessment, the resulting mitigation measures could include some form of operational curtailment, which could impair the economics of the project. Understanding the intricacies of possible mandated or voluntary strategies that could reduce the project’s effect on bats but also influence energy production during operation, are critical to the project’s business case.

Early engagement with the community and regulators with an ability to demonstrate an understanding of project specific environmental attributes builds trust. Early information sharing can go a long way in diffusing potential issues that maybe weren’t apparent when the project site was initially chosen. Open and informed engagement with the community that show consideration of environmental attributes can assist other efforts to build community support for the project.


Expertise to solve complex problems

The team at Hemmera has helped many renewable energy projects move from blueprint to full operation by navigating these complexities. At Altagas’ Bear Mountain Wind Park, a 34-turbine, 102 MW wind energy facility in northeastern BC, being the first commercial project to deliver wind-powered electricity to the BC power grid brought many challenges. The community was very supportive of the project. They were the catalyst for the project and the first to invest in bringing the project to market. However, the absence of a track record for wind energy in forested BC led to many regulatory concerns that could not be overcome using information from other projects in very different parts of North America.

Our team managed the Environmental Assessment and proposed an adaptive management strategy that committed to mitigation if certain thresholds of effect on birds and bats were reached during the project’s operation period. This avoided the need for AltaGas to commit to costly and potentially unnecessary mitigation before they proved to be necessary. Our adaptive approach provided biological data for improved decision-making, addressing uncertainty over mitigation requirements and reducing the costs associated with mitigation, while at the same time providing regulators with the assurance that appropriate mitigation would be applied should the effects require it. The Bear Mountain turbines began operation in 2009 and currently generate enough renewable electricity to power most homes in BC’s South Peace region.

Since the completion of the Bear Mountain Project, our team has completed dozens of other projects across Canada. We are proud of our work and commitment to help companies do their part to increase Canada’s use of renewable energy resources in the most sustainable way possible.

In the next article, we’ll discuss the important regional differences that organizations need to consider when preparing for and advancing through the approvals process.


Our experience

Hemmera, a subsidiary of Ausenco, is a recognized leader in providing environmental support to the renewable energy sector including wind energy, solar, small hydro, run-of-river developments and associated transmission projects. Our talented, dedicated and experienced professionals help organizations steer projects through the complex environmental assessment and regulatory processes – on time and on budget. We are experienced in managing reviews in several provinces and territories and have also completed many joint reviews and audits of proposed and operational projects.


Our team of experts are ready to help, reach out to
 Mike Enright to learn more. 


Other articles in the series:

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Understanding your EA commitments and how they impact construction and operation

Written by: Charlie Palmer, Practice Leader, Environmental Impact Assessment and Mike Peckford, Business Leader, Atlantic Canada/National Lead Renewable Energy 

A critical part of the environmental assessment (EA) process for renewable energy projects is providing commitments around protecting the environment through all phases of project development, and through to operation. Compliance with these commitments is usually underpinned by legislative requirements, and while there is a financial cost to achieve compliance, there are bigger costs and risks to relationships with Indigenous nations, regulators and stakeholders if owners do not comply with their commitments.

How EA commitments are written is also critical since they will become the benchmark by which a project’s environmental performance is measured and monitored for years to come. Part of our work at Hemmera is helping our clients put forward EA commitments that achieve the environmental goals, yet are also pragmatic for implementation. Knowing what owners are agreeing to is important so that the terms can be built into contracting and procurement processes, and the costs can be incorporated into project financing.

In this article, we discuss some of the EA commitment hurdles project owners can encounter during the renewable energy project development cycle, as well as time and resource saving ideas to reduce risk.


The four project stages and why knowledge transfer between them is critical

Most renewable energy projects are broken into four development stages: 1. permitting/approval, 2. construction, 3. operation and maintenance, and 4. decommissioning or repowering.

EA commitments are developed and approved in the initial permitting/approval phase based on agreements to protect physical, biological and social environmental values during the subsequent construction, operation and decommissioning/repowering phases. The biggest risks we’ve seen when guiding clients through the project life cycle are the loss of information and knowledge when moving from one phase to the next, particularly when new proponent teams or new project partners specializing in the new phase are bought onto the project to replace the previous team. Due to these inherent risks, we always advise giving deep consideration to the commitments that were previously made in advance of moving from one phase to the next in a project’s life cycle.

Hemmera Project - Wind turbines


When a commitment becomes problematic

At Hemmera, we understand the types of EA commitments that might become problematic. Flagging them before they become part of a signed agreement is critical. Below are some of the themes we’ve noticed in problematic EA commitments:

Too specific: Some EA commitments are too prescriptive and leave little or no room for flexibility. Changes are inevitable as you construct and operate a project so there has to be some element of flexibility in your commitments to allow for adaptation.

Too open-ended: Alternatively, we’ve seen EA commitments that are too broad and which can leave proponents exposed during compliance checks. It’s best to include specific metrics in commitments, including limits and the associated contingency actions should they not be reached.

Unfinished commitments: Perhaps worse than being too specific or too broad is inexpertly deferring tasks required to develop a commitment to later phases in the development process. Saving time or money during the approval phase, pending information to be obtained later, is an acceptable approach and sometimes necessary for addressing uncertainty. Still, you must build in safeguards such as describing the future process and committing all required parties to that process. Expect to give a little for the flexibility you’re granted if you choose one of these types of commitments.

Relying on others: Some commitments mistakenly rely either entirely or partially on third parties to fulfill a promise, such as a landowner clearing their property, or a contractor completing a project by a certain deadline. If there’s no way to enforce these third-party promises, the onus is always on the project owner to find and fund the solution, no matter the time or cost.

Unachievable: In some cases, commitments made are simply not achievable. We’ve seen commitments to relocate infrastructure in the event of not meeting a target. This type of commitment is enormously expensive and impractical. Anything considered impractical or fiscally irresponsible should be avoided.

Project owners need to have a team of experienced developers and consultants who understand the entire life cycle of a project to carefully develop and manage each of the EA commitments.

Solar


Keeping projects on track

Hemmera not only helps project owners develop appropriate commitments during the permitting and approval phase, we also work to keep them on track during the subsequent phases. We’ve been involved in projects from feasibility and approval phases through to construction and operation and even in the re-powering of projects. With this experience, we’ve developed a keen sense of commitments that are workable and those that are not. During the handover between development phases, we recommend the compilation and maintenance of an environmental management system — a framework designed to help owners keep on top of their commitments as they move from one project phase to the next. Knowing and understanding your commitments, when they’re due and who’s responsible, is essential. You need a clear understanding of what needs to be done and by whom so that you, your contractor, or consultant does not drop the ball!

Our next article looks at involving the host community in your project, including the importance of relationship-building with project stakeholders including communities, Indigenous peoples, regulators, and other project partners.


Our experience

Hemmera, a subsidiary of Ausenco, is a recognized leader in providing environmental support to the renewable energy sector including wind energy, solar, small hydro, run-of-river developments, and associated transmission projects. For more than two decades, our talented, dedicated and experienced impact assessment teams have supported many of Canada’s largest and most challenging projects. Our depth of experience and multi-disciplinary approach allow us to steer projects through the complex assessment and regulatory processes – on time and on budget.


Our team of experts are ready to help, reach out to
Mike Peckford or Charlie Palmer to learn more. 

Other articles in the series:

Back to Renewables homepage