The Biden administration has placed environmental technology — including solar, wind and other “green energy” solutions — front and center of the national conversation. Besides being good for the planet, this emphasis will likely mean more activity for engineering firms, according to local experts.
Biden’s environmental commitments will “absolutely” mean more business for GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc., according to Senior Project Manager Andrew Rizk. “GZA has multidisciplinary internal teams focused on solar and other green energy initiatives, such as wind and geothermal, and we have responded to numerous proposal requests for solar redevelopment projects,” he said. “Our firm specializes in soils, foundation, and environmental engineering. Any time a site is being developed – whether former farmland or brownfields — we can evaluate the subsurface soil and groundwater conditions. Solar, geothermal and wind projects require soils investigations and, for wind and solar, foundation design, while foundation types will vary based on site location, loads and soil types. Our solar, geothermal and wind divisions are very active.”
Rizk also anticipates an increase in the number of GZA’s site remediation projects. “For instance, landfills provide inexpensive and ready real estate for solar farms,” he said. “Other contaminated sites not suitable for residential or commercial development could provide additional land for solar and green energy projects. We have seen an uptick in requests to develop landfills for solar use, including the Linden Landfill and Somerville Landfill, in which GZA was involved. Another example is the Steel Winds project on Lake Erie just south of Buffalo, N.Y. — we provided geotechnical and environmental engineering services during development of a former steel slag waterfront fill area into a small wind farm. We see a continued need to redevelop brownfield sites.”
GZA, which has offices in more than a dozen states, was recently involved in a project that included redevelopment of the Linden Landfill to include a 4MW solar system that could provide more than 7 million kWh of electricity annually to the surrounding community — an estimated 1,000 homes.
“We are engaged to help with the geotechnical and foundation design of the system,” according to Rizk. “The project should be nearing the end of its construction soon. For another project, we provided preliminary geotechnical services involving offshore drilling at two proposed ocean wind farm tracts. This follows our involvement with the first operational offshore wind farm in the United States at Block Island in Rhode Island.”
He also sees an increase in warehouse commercial development, green energy like solar and wind, geothermal energy efficiency, and climate change and resiliency projects. Locally, “GZA sees continued opportunities in warehouse development along major transportation routes, the possible extension of the Delaware River Line light rail from Camden to Glassboro, and development of port facilities to support the planned offshore wind industry.”
Job market renewal
“If Biden is going to accelerate with his plans for renewable energy development, it will naturally result in more work for us,” said Partner Engineering and Science Inc. President Frank S. Romeo Jr. “Partner Engineering and Science provides all of the services necessary to plan, develop and implement a solar project,” including environmental site assessments, geotechnical, ALTAs all of which are required for solar and wind projects. We also do the engineering and consulting after projects are developed through design, due diligence, construction oversight and commissioning oversight.” ALTA Land Title Surveys, required for most real estate transactions, are used to determine and depict the locations of existing features of a property, including title boundaries, access to rights of way, buildings, other improvements, easements, encroachments, water features, and other significant features.
Romeo noted that there’s also a “tremendous emphasis on clean energy and carbon emissions right now in the state. New Jersey is prioritizing energy use reduction and facilitating this by putting dollars into energy efficiency programs. Businesses are encouraged through incentives and requirements to understand and quantify their carbon emissions, and in doing so, reducing their overall emissions.”
Due to climate change and natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy, “we see more businesses trying to understand climate change risks, how these risks affect their properties, and then trying to make their properties more resilient,” he added. “Many companies have implemented Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance policies, which is a measure of the sustainability and social impact of the business.”
All of these developments could also mean an increase in site remediation projects, he said. “It seems the trend of repurpose and reuse will continue. Development, especially within the warehouse and storage space has been active as well. These trends lead to an increase in investigation and site remediation. Partner has LSRPs, or Licensed Site Remediation Professionals, on staff as required by the State of New Jersey to conduct the oversight of an environmental investigation and cleanup.”
Partner Energy, a nationwide provider of energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering services for existing buildings and new construction, recently provided a climate change analysis on a Bayonne office building that would be subject to flooding, Romeo said. “In addition to the analysis, we also provided recommendations for how to make the property more resilient to flooding and other risk factors, including high winds and increased precipitation.”
The firm is also seeing a rise in “green” solar carport and other projects here. “One project Partner is working on is for a health care system in New Jersey for the development of 7MW worth of solar installations consisting of carports and structured parking garage canopies across five locations,” he explained. “This solar project will account for roughly 20%, or 8,400MW hours, of the client’s yearly electric consumption.”
Applications for solar installations have also changed. “Traditionally, we would see mostly ground mount and roof mount installations but now landfills and carports are becoming more popular. In fact, both of these types of projects do well because they get the full Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) in New Jersey’s current Transition REC (TREC) program.
These both currently enjoy very good incentives and are perfect options for developed properties that may not have any other use, as they provide multiple benefits to the properties. A successor program is in the works; however, they have insufficient incentives for carports and brownfields. Nonetheless, the TREC program will still have projects in development over the next year that will still qualify as long as they file.”