Expert Q&A: Krista Dearing Discusses Permitting and Tax Credits for Renewable Energy Projects on U.S. Federal Land
Krista Dearing is Tetra Tech’s renewables business development lead for the southwestern United States and has more than 25 years of experience in environmental permitting for power transmission, distribution, and generation projects. Her expertise is in technical understanding of federal, state, and local permitting requirements for large, complex energy projects.
Krista has successfully led numerous projects involving planning, permitting, design, and construction of commercial nuclear facilities across North America and several utility-scale wind and solar facilities in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Her technical expertise includes developing environmental planning and permitting strategies for energy projects, including siting, scoping, regulatory agency coordination, and mitigation.
Krista holds a Master of Science in Geology and is a Professional Geologist licensed in Arizona.
What are the major challenges of permitting renewable projects on federal land?
Major challenges related to permitting renewable energy projects include navigating/negotiating local regulatory requirements, stakeholder outreach and consultations, and securing the large swaths of land required for deployment. Siting and permitting requirements for renewable projects on federal land are more challenging than those required for private land. Renewable projects proposed on federally managed land—typically owned by the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service (USFS)—must secure a federal rights-of-way lease that satisfies the requirements outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act and related statutes, such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Clean Water Act.
Other laws, while potentially applicable to private land development, have greater impact on federal lands and increase the regulatory scope of the ESA exponentially on federal lands. For example, certain protections not provided to imperiled plant species on private land apply to federal lands. Furthermore, project development on federal lands often requires the federal land use agency to consult with the USFS to ensure that a proposed project will not jeopardize a listed species or adversely modify a species’ critical habitat.
Tetra Tech staff have been part of the energy community for over 40 years, supporting site selection, routing, permitting, and regulatory compliance for power generation and transmission lines. Tetra Tech has successfully permitted large and complex renewable energy projects for our clients on federal land throughout the western United States.
What are the major components of a permitting framework for renewable projects?
Designing a strategic permitting framework is a critical first step in identifying required permits and land use constraints for renewable projects. We draw on our senior expertise in the renewable industry and regulatory area to identify and mitigate potential constraints or roadblocks. This understanding often saves time and budget later in the project. As a function of strategic planning, a critical issues analysis with buildable constraints maps and project-specific permit matrix are highly recommended to determine a project’s feasibility and to define a strategy to proceed.
Another critical step of the strategic permitting framework is cultivating relationships with federal agencies. Most federal agencies are understaffed, and existing staff are reviewing a multitude of project applications and documentation. Our experience connecting with federal agencies has shown that federal staff are more responsive and more closely engaged in a project if they are working with applicants who reach out to them early and often.
Renewable energy developers view Tetra Tech as a partner who can evaluate potential site constraints quickly and cost-effectively; navigate the regulatory environment efficiently; and complete the environmental permitting and engineering support services on time, within budget, and in compliance with applicable regulations and statutes.
By offering a full suite of permitting and engineering services throughout the project life cycle, Tetra Tech provides a unique and comprehensive perspective to each project’s permitting framework.
How do tax credits factor into the permitting process?
Under the Safe Harbors Relief Act, the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar technologies and Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind technologies provide tax incentives to stimulate renewable energy technology growth.
The PTC provides a tax credit of 1–2 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of electricity generation for utility-scale wind, while the ITC provides a credit for 12–30 percent of investment costs at the start of a solar project. Safe Harbor is deemed satisfied for a federal land project if the project is placed in service within 10 calendar years after the project started construction.
The federal tax credits have played an important role in the rapid growth of the U.S. renewable energy industry on federal and private land.
How are we using technology to streamline the permitting process?
Our data management tool kit ranges from real-time data capture to data visualization during the actual field surveys. Recently, we worked with one of our primary clients on an accelerated 400-megawatt solar project in New Mexico. The project site had numerous sensitive cultural resources that required changes to the ongoing project engineering design. Our field surveyors and GIS specialists shared the size and locations of the cultural sites with our client in real-time to allow for prompt changes in the project layout to avoid the sites.
Permitting timelines can be lengthy for a new solar or wind investment. To increase permit efficiency, Tetra Tech employs state-of-the-art tools, unique data management options, surveying, and constraints mapping to streamline the siting and permitting timeline. Our Tetra Tech geomatic and information technology professionals utilize the latest technologically advanced tools and robust IT infrastructure to produce accurate, quality data that are used, stored, and accessed by our permitting teams to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the permitting process while saving our clients money.