Expert Q&A: Alicia Oller Discusses the Evolving Trends and Emerging Technologies in Onshore Wind Energy
Alicia Oller is Tetra Tech’s director for onshore wind energy and leads our renewable energy practice across the Pacific Islands. She has more than 30 years of global professional experience in environmental and sustainability consulting, including almost 15 years focusing on renewable energy development: onshore and offshore wind, solar, transmission, and storage. Alicia provides leadership, strategic vision, diverse technical expertise, and client services to facilitate successful renewable energy development. She serves as an account manager for several developers, independent power producers, and utility clients.
Alicia has successfully managed numerous large-scale multidisciplinary projects for a wide array of land development and conservation projects involving natural resource assessments, agency and stakeholder coordination, environmental impact assessment, mitigation and monitoring program design and implementation, engineering design, environmental permitting and compliance, and endangered species issues. During her career, she has supported projects throughout most U.S. states, several U.S. territories, Canada, Central America, China, and Europe. While at Tetra Tech, Alicia has focused on permitting wind and other renewable energy projects across the United States and Endangered Species Act consultations, including Section 10 habitat conservation plans and incidental take permits.
Alicia has a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Maryville College and a Master of Science in Ecology from the University of Tennessee. She is a member of Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE) and serves on the Portland, Oregon, WRISE Chapter Board.
How has onshore wind energy industry evolved and grown over the past decade?
The global wind energy industry has nearly quadrupled in installed capacity over the past decade. Onshore wind is one of the lowest-priced energy sources available today, with prices having dropped over 40 percent since the peak between 2007 and 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association and U.S. Department of Energy. This growth in the wind industry is fueled by consumer and corporate demand for clean energy to meet decarbonization and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) commitments in addition to aggressive renewable portfolio standards set by states, corporations, and utilities. Extension of federal tax incentives and policies encouraging clean energy have also contributed to cost reductions and the overall growth of the wind industry. Additional factors contributing to the reduced cost of wind include more competitive supply chains and wind turbine technological improvements that enhance performance and reduce wind’s levelized cost of energy, according to American Clean Power Association. Compared to solar and other energy sources, wind projects can be more easily micro-sited and coexist with farms or ranches and other land uses. Many of our clients no longer focus on a single renewable energy source, but are developing wind, solar, and storage or considering a hybrid project that includes two or more of these energy sources.
Because onshore wind is a more mature energy market than solar and offshore wind energy, years of data enable our clients to better understand potential development and operations issues and the associated solutions. For example, data from pre- and post-construction studies have indicated bat and eagle impacts as potential areas of concern for a wind facility. The industry works to minimize impacts to species of concern by implementing best management practices, as practicable. Emerging technologies designed to potentially reduce wildlife impacts such as bat deterrents, smart curtailment, and collision detection systems are evolving. These technological advances are important when considering many existing wind facilities are in the process of or will be considered for repower when at the end of their life cycle or to improve energy production with more efficient turbines. Repowering a wind facility is when older and typically smaller wind turbines are replaced with newer, generally larger, and more efficient turbines.
What are some of the major challenges and complexities facing onshore wind development?
The major challenges and complexities facing onshore wind development include availability of new transmission and interconnection, competition with other energy generation sources, potential for complex permitting and compliance requirements, and anti-wind sentiment. The lack of new transmission may make it more difficult for wind to compete with solar as wind is often sited in more remote locations. Onshore wind has increasing competition from other energy generation sources with the prices of solar and natural gas continuing to decrease, the rapid growth of offshore wind, and emergence of other technologies such as hydrogen.
Additionally, wind projects tend to have more complexities to address during the development and operations phase such as permitting, avian, bat, and endangered species impacts, visual and noise concerns, anti-wind policies, public opposition, and long-term monitoring or compliance requirements. However, we are seeing some of these same issues becoming more common with solar. Potential impacts to bats have evolved as a primary issue for the wind industry as additional species are being considered for listing as threatened or endangered and increased concerns of potential population declines for more common species. Finally, with the number of existing projects and anticipated repowers, disposal or recycling of turbine blades has emerged as a significant concern; however, companies are identifying innovative ways to recycle or reuse turbine blades and other turbine components.
With the Biden administration’s clean energy and decarbonization goals, and potential for accelerating the permitting process for energy and transmission projects, onshore wind will continue to be a key player in the renewable energy market. Additionally, with the increased size of turbines that are more efficient in low-wind speed areas, wind development can expand into areas previously considered not to have sufficient wind resource, such as areas in the eastern United States. Tetra Tech’s scientists, engineers, and planners partner with our clients to navigate these project complexities, mitigate potential impacts, and work with stakeholders through public outreach. Our variety of subject matter experts and agency relationships also allow us to identify solutions using the best available science to navigate the unique challenges a project may face.
How is Tetra Tech able to support a wind energy project developer?
Tetra Tech works with our clients to develop and operate a successful wind project by managing risk, developing a strategy to achieve project objectives, and maximizing project return on investment. Tetra Tech’s interdisciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, planners, and construction management professionals use our Leading with Science® approach, which employs our Tetra Tech Delta suite of proprietary technologies and analytical tools, to successfully support a project’s lifecycle.
Tetra Tech’s depth of resources and broad geographic coverage ensure industry-wide competence with local delivery. With our strong experience and good working relationships with regulatory agencies, we can help streamline project siting, permitting, and compliance. We provide early consideration of constructability, respect for in-service schedules, and an appreciation for overall project economics. Our subject matter experts are considered some of the wind industry’s leading experts. Moreover, our long history supporting the wind industry allows us to apply lessons learned across the life cycle of a wind project and associated infrastructure.