So you are about to deploy the first commercial version of your new technology.  Or you are about to select your site for a new renewable or advanced energy project. In ramping up your cleantech project, everything has looked great in small scale trial tests.  You have had great result and are excited to bring this to market as the "next big thing." 

Deployment of new technologies and choosing sites for your renewable energy project can always present major challenges.  What looks good during small scale tests or on paper may prove to be unworkable or too costly in the field. 

How can you better assess your situation and proceed to a smooth launch of your technology or successfully deploy your project?  Here are some suggestions I have developed either from my years as a regulator or in working with clients.  Hopefully, taking careful consideration of some these issues can better position your company and avoid some "unseen enemies." 

1.  Site Selection-  Study closely the practical aspects of various proposed locations for your new facility.  Often company’s select a site based upon expected customer demands or other business considerations.  However, prior to moving forward with the significant investment in terms of lease or purchase agreements, permitting, and zoning/building approvals significant investigation should be performed to evaluate the viability of the proposed site.

  • What the local zoning and building requirements?
  • Transportation routes should be evaluated
  • Any significant history with regards to citizen or environmental groups in the area?- Cleantech companies can naively think they are immune to NIMBY concerns only to find themselves immersed in costly and protracted litigation
  • Will your project require significant amounts of water?  If so, is there a readily available source or any issues with tapping into that source?

2.  Environmental Permitting and Regulatory Requirements-  Will your source have air or water emissions?  Will you generate significant solid waste or hazardous waste?  You should have an assessment of how environmental permitting and regulatory requirements could impact either the location or configuration of the facility at the site.  You should also know whether environmental requirements are going to impact the ultimate engineering design of your facility.  I have seen companies forced to completely redesign their process because they did not fully incorporate environmental permitting issues into their designs.

  • Will you have air emissions at levels that will require pollution controls?
  • Are you co-located at a location with an existing air source where EPA requirements may force you to aggregate emissions with that existing source?
  • Will you have a wastewater discharge? If so, can you hook into the wastewater treatment system or need a direct discharge.  If hooking into a pre-existing wastewater treatment system what are the pre-treatment requirements. 
    • What if the local wastewater treatment plant is under investigation or a federal consent decree?  Will that result in stricter standards that could drive up your pre-treatment requirements on-site?

3.  Lease Agreement and Construction Documents-  While you may believe you are headed to a wildly successful deployment or expansion, if anything has been shown in the last six months its that the market place is unpredictable.  You should make sure you understand and negotiate termination provisions in your lease agreements, construction documents or other legal documents governing your relationships with customers or business partners.  While you may be very disappointed you have to cancel the project, you may really be frustrated if you find yourself in a costly legal battle with potential customers, contractors and/or property owners.

4. Feasibility Studies-  Make sure when hiring a consultant to perform a feasibility study that  they have the expertise and knowledge regarding the state and local requirements associated with the project.  Many may be familiar with federal requirements, but you need to take into account local site selection issues as well.

  • Local ordinances- many renewable energy projects will be highly impacted by local ordinances that contain siting requirements.  Make sure your consultant takes into account the hurdles involved in deploying your project.
  • Include assessment of possible environmental market trading mechanisms-  Will you generate CO2 offsets?  Are you deploying renewable energy that could qualify for renewable energy credits?  Is your consultant or project team considering the current market fluctuations in these markets when evaluating whether carbon credits or RECs add to the viability of your project?

5.  Incentives-  It seems every lawyer and consultant is promoting their knowledge regarding availability of federal stimulus funding.  However, don’t forget there are many state and even local programs that can provide grants and tax incentives for green businesses and energy.  Make sure you have someone on your project team that has knowledge of these incentives and understands the process for obtaining funds.