Power for Change

Stuart Smith
US utility companies face challenges in providing customers with reliable, efficient energy. Improving and expanding infrastructure is vital to future capacity needs.

As energy use continues to increase, the US electrical transmission system requires substantial additions to meet demand. Over the past 30 years the country has suffered from under-investment in new transmission infrastructure. Increasing loads and the expansion of new renewable energy generation projects are putting pressure on the ageing and constrained transmission system.

The industry is now seeing increased activity in the improvement and expansion of extra high-voltage overhead transmission systems. These complex projects need very long-term planning, not only for construction but also to secure permits and permissions, acquire land, negotiate access, satisfy community stakeholders, and ensure good integration with neighbouring utility systems.

Stringent permitting requirements make the planning and permitting stages much longer than the construction phase.

Stringent permitting requirements make the planning and permitting stages much longer than the construction phase. Where federal property is traversed, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is often the controlling permitting process. This requires project owners and federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes, by considering environmental impacts and adequate project alternatives.

Both state and federal legislation, permits and local ordinances are typically involved, and these can be subject to change during the lengthy planning process. Management of requirements for multiple governmental entities is needed when the transmission line corridors cross jurisdictional borders. Decisions are influenced by geography, topography, project type and line length, and are also shaped by the degree of public interest and often-competing commercial and political agendas.

Environmental impact analysis and mitigation planning addresses a wide range of influences, including water considerations, cultural resources, species habitat impacts, avian protection and vegetation protection. This process needs extensive planning, engineering coordination and overall management to deliver a successful permit.

Land issues are usually complex, requiring careful planning, negotiation and scheduling of acquisition and right of way agreements.

Land issues are usually complex, requiring careful planning, negotiation and scheduling of acquisition and right of way agreements. A 1000-mile project will typically have hundreds of landowners, ranging from federal and state, to corporate, private individual or residential. Other considerations include population, town planning, cultural heritage and existing infrastructure. It's vital to develop strategies for minimizing construction impact and permanent effect on the landscape, but opportunities to avoid construction delays should also be explored. Large-scale construction on rugged terrain brings problems in accessing potentially remote sites. Roads may have to be built and this understandably intensifies community sensitivities. Good communication around the natural resource and visual impact of the project will help alleviate concerns, together with collaborative community stakeholder management.

Other challenges include the supply chain capability to support these large-scale projects. Material resources, for example steel, can be problematic to source in a rapidly growing market. This can result in long lead times and drive costs upwards. Public and stakeholder outreach is essential, to harness input and mitigate sensitivity. The stakeholder process needs good management, to ensure that realistic and productive dialogue is developed and resolutions reached. This may involve communities, landowners, other utility companies, contractors, environmental groups and a wide range of state and federal agencies.

Protecting our clients' interests, we underpin efficient delivery by focusing on successful permitting, construction and operation.

Faithful+Gould provides project management and project controls services on transmission projects for leading utility corporations. Protecting our clients' interests, we underpin efficient delivery by focusing on successful permitting, construction and operation. We use our skills and tools to plan and negotiate on our clients’ behalf, identify and mitigate risk, control costs, and manage the schedule, multiple contractors and stakeholder interests. An example includes services for the ongoing development of transmission line projects across the Inter Mountain West and other parts of North America.

Our independence from project stakeholder interests is a major strength. We help our clients to develop viable proposals, through leveraging our relationships with many agency stakeholders, negotiating sensible compromises where necessary, for items such as line routing and mitigations. Electrical transmission is just one area of our expertise in the rapidly changing energy landscape. We have led projects in this sector for more than 60 years, forging strong relationships with major providers across the world.

Our consulting services support energy companies in overcoming business challenges in both capital and asset management programmes. Our international portfolio includes clients in upstream oil and gas, downstream refining and chemicals, nuclear energy, renewable energy technologies, power generation, transmission and distribution, and infrastructure.

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