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Kimley-Horn Solar Series: Understanding EPCs

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About This Webinar

In our third webinar of the series, our panel of solar experts break down the role of EPCs in a solar energy development. We cover topics such as: what is an EPC, how to find the right EPC for your project, understanding scope and timeline in the development process, and more.  

This transcript was generated by computer recognition software. Although largely accurate, please excuse any unanticipated grammatical, syntax, homophone, and other interpretive errors that may have been inadvertently transcribed.

Colleen Marnell:

Welcome everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. I know there’s some folks that are still joining, but we’re going to go ahead and get started. As Emma mentioned, if you have questions throughout the process, feel free to submit them through the Q and a feature and we’ll answer what we can. And we can always follow up on your question after as well. So don’t hesitate to drop those in there. My name is Colleen Marnell I’m with Kimberly Horn and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion on understanding solar EPC. We’re lucky enough to have with us today. Two folks from Swinerton renewable energy, they were ranked number one EPC contractor by solar world this year, and they have over eight gigawatts of solar power installed today. Definitely one of the leaders in the industry, we’re also joined by two of my colleagues from Kimley-Horn Kinley horns, an engineering and environmental consultant. And we’ve touched over 55 gigawatts of solar projects across the country. So have a lot of experiences. Well, before we dive into the conversation, let’s do some introductions. So as I mentioned, I’m Colleen Marnell with Kimley-Horn. I’ve been involved with our solar practice since the early days. I live in Chicago with my husband and three-year-old son, Brian innings. Why don’t you go next?

Ryan Ams:

Sure. my name is Ryan aims. I’m a civil engineering consultant from Kimberly Horn. I work with developers and APCs lots of different stages of projects that can vary from pre-development all the way to construction. I’m part of our Midwest solar team, and I’m also located in the Chicago office at Kimley-Horn with Colleen. I’ve worked on several gigawatts of utility scale, solar farms, too much to count at this point. As well as community scale projects, substation yards, and, and more recently battery battery, energy storage systems worked kind of all over the Midwest and even supported some partners in other regions have got lots of experience kind of throughout the country on solar.

Colleen:

Great Donny you’re up next?

Donny Gallagher:

All right. Great. Now thanks for having me calling yeah, my name is Dani Gallagher. I’m director of engineering for Swinerton renewable energy. I’ve been with the Swinerton team since the early days. I oversee our design and permanent teams for all of our projects. We do nationwide and think I’ve overseen roughly nine gigs at this point.

Colleen:

Awesome.

Nick Lamek:

Hey, sit in Las Vegas or if we can, we harness civil engineer Soltan. I’ve worked on developments across the country from pre-development through construction, just like Ryan did as well as substations and best worked with developers and both EPBCS to make sure that their projects get done and get completed the way they want it. Thanks,

Colleen:

Nick, Brian,

Brian Irlbeck:

And thanks, Brian rollback with Swinerton been involved in the renewable scene for nine years now. And I’ve been involved in projects from Hawaii to Florida, to Oregon, to Ontario, Canada. I don’t really know what the, what the total the gigawatt count is, but you know, I started out the first job was a megawatt and a half, and now we’re into the several hundreds. So it’s it’s an exciting thing to be a part of.

Colleen:

Yeah. They just keep getting bigger. Right. Well, great. Well, now that we’ve got the intros out of the way, let’s go ahead and start with some of the basics. So Donnie, would you mind sharing the scope of your work as an EPC in the solar industry?

Donny:

I certainly so. Yeah, as the name entails, you know, EPC, we do the engineering, procurement and construction. We kinda have the full range of services. We have in-house engineering team that supports a high voltage and, and SCADA as well as PV and work with partners such as, as Kelly Horn and blind Myra engineers on all of the designs for our projects. Then we do you know, always with the procurement and the construction team, which Brian runs a big part of that. And then we have an operation and maintenance arm as well. That will yeah, one of the leaders and I think in the world was point for a seller O and M. So I was, I had the good full kind of lifecycle here at Swinerton. We, we get from, from the beginning all the way through operations and get that feedback loop coming back in.

Colleen:

Great. Ryan, can you share, how can we mourn fits into the puzzle that Donnie just described?

Ryan Ams:

Yeah, absolutely. So Kimberly Horn are our scope and kind of our services you know, when involved with an EPC, it can vary depending on, you know, when we’re contracted by the EPC. You know, if, if it’s pretty preliminary and the stage that can be a 30% plan all the way to, you know, an issue for permit and through the permitting process with local AHJs and jurisdictions through the construction set Kimley-Horn also provide stormwater management analysis and pollution prevention services, additional permanent support, hydrology, structural it can fit, you can fit a whole lot under the umbrella.

Colleen:

Awesome. All right. So Donnie, back to you, every developer out there is wanting to know this answer. What does every EPC wish that a developer knew?

Donny:

Like what, what we wish developers knew? I would say not all land is, is equal. So as you had, you’re citing your, your projects definitely important to pay attention to the different land constraints that you have out there, whether it’s, you know, wetlands or other environmental features or setbacks, easements topography the watersheds that, you know, pass through the site and, and kind of seeing how, how the pieces of that puzzle play together. And obviously the better sites have a more continuous piece of land rather than the, I called the shotgun approach. You kind of have a scatter across, you know, a map of all these different parcels that are interconnected because w when you, when you can really get into it, you can see a certain parts of a site will have dramatically different price per watt.

Donny:

And so you might get, you know, the, you usually develop it, just use the average price for watt, right? It’s the price for the entire site, but if you’re really trying to optimize, you can realize that certain parcels, maybe 10, 15% more expensive, you know, on a price per watt basis to build then others. And so kind of keeping that in mind too, that it’s not just the, you know acquisition or lease costs of the land, but it’s yeah, it really, what does that, that construction and operations costs as well, because again, you get cards with large offsite watersheds flowing through them, or Steve train, you’re going to have higher operational maintenance costs on that land, as well as there’s going to be, you know, a just typical stormwater, you know, basin management erosion over the years. Yeah, I think that’s probably one of the, the big thing is not all land is equal,

Colleen:

Not only I’m created equal. Yes. so, so Nick, I know you work with both developers and EPC, so I’m sure you get some insight from those developers about what they’re looking for in an EPC. So what have some of the developers you’re working for shared about what they’re looking for in an EPC?

Nick:

I would choose, I mean, some developers like to bring the EPC on as a partner, kind of get them up front sunlight to kind of take the plans a little bit further and then kind of build it out. In my opinion, the most successful projects seem to be the ones that bring the EPC partner on as soon as possible, make sure that the EPC understands the scope and the developer understands what the EPC is going to. I’m going to need to get done, how they’re going to construct it and make sure everybody’s on the same page. From a developer standpoint, I think it’s all communication back and forth between the EPC. Again, they, they, the EBC needs to fully understand what, what needs to get done. The scale of it, the megawattage, what the budget is, what is expected from the developer. The EPC needs that in order to give them a quality product that they’re, they’re looking for that that’s that’s the biggest thing is it’s open communication and that works not only with the APC and developer, but also with engineering team as well. Communication is the most critical key of all every project.

Brian:

And I think that early on there’s so many decisions that need to be made that have such a dramatic impact on the project that the developer may think that it’s it’s insignificant, but when the EPC comes in later and, and learns of all these kinds of commitments or restrictions that were made, it, it can really, you know, drive price and schedule in a negative way.

Donny:

Well, and I think that’s a good to circle back to what Nick mentioned about the most successful projects are the ones where it’s a true partnership from the beginning with an EPC and developer, because I, I think there’s there’s, there’s definitely differences. You know, what’s cheaper for Swinerton is not necessarily cheaper for one of our competitors, right? So when we’re trying to optimize a site, we’re optimizing it around the, the products, the technology that, that we have in our wheelhouse, the equipment we own, you know, what are our specialties? In-House what are we self performing which is most things these days. So what are we self versus what are we subcontracting out? And, you know, what we can build cheaper or for really cheap might actually be expensive for another EBC and vice versa. So on some of these early decisions Brian spoke about if you just kind of generally are consulting with APC, some APCs might say, well, that’s not a big deal. But then another ABC, it, it is a big deal to them. So by selecting your partner early, you can really make sure that the project is kind of designed around, you know, what is most optimum for this team? You know, what, how are we meeting the developer specs with the EDCs expertise in this area and really focus on, on that?

Colleen:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, Donnie Willan and obviously the site layout is the basis for the design. And then of course the construction I’ve been part of some projects where that site layout process, maybe isn’t factored in completely to the schedule and, and can end up wasting a lot of money in time. Dani, I’m curious to hear from your perspective, what’s kind of the best way to approach that site layout process to account for all of the different stakeholders, from what the developer wants to, maybe what the landowners are requesting. And then of course, the electrical design and civil constraints, how do you all approach that process?

Donny:

I mean, I agree. I mean, I think the, the layout is probably the most important parts. Well, I say we will spend as much time on getting the layout right, as we do, probably on the 90% plants. I mean, at this point they mostly VCs, they they’ve designed these sites enough, you, you generally know how they’re all going together. It’s getting the nuances of the layout. That’s really tricky and you do need to coordinate it with schedules. And sometimes it, it depends on when you mobilizing and what’s, what’s the build. You have to look at, you know, the, the earthwork and want to make sure that if you’re cutting from one area and filling it in the other, does the bill represent that so that you can do that earthwork first rather than having to, you know, cut an area and then stockpile it because you haven’t cleared the trees where that field is you’ve placed yet.

Donny:

Or just making sure everything’s aligned with, you know, how the piles coming in, where the racking crews going. A lot, the modules are a huge deal these days, right? The module supply is very constrained. And so depending on module delivery schedules, especially when you have these large projects, I might have two or three different types of modules on a job. You’re designing for the specifics of those modules and, and unfortunately they’re, they’re not quite at the point yet where modules are fully interchangeable. So you have racking and wiring that is designed for a specific set of modules need to make sure that the build schedule matches the delivery schedule for those modules. And that during design that is taken into account too, right. If you’re looking at okay, how are we going to balance the earthwork? If we’re getting all these modules upfront, we want to balance this section of the site over here, you know, so it kind of self balanced, and you’re not having to, you know, Paul and dirt from some area that maybe isn’t getting modules for six months and making that you’re, you’re really aligning all of these different parts and pieces, but it’s, it’s a big puzzle for sure.

Colleen:

Agree, agree. And I think some folks focus more on that puzzle upfront than others, and that can definitely impact construction both schedule and, and how it’s approached. So, so Ryan, I’m curious from your perspective, you know, on the engineering side of things, how do you navigate the site layout creation and balancing what the EPC wants in addition to all the other stakeholders?

Donny:

Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s always a challenge on, on every project and, you know, they’re all individual. And I think kind of going off what Donnie said, I think the sooner you can bring the, you know, appropriate partners to the table, that being the EPC and the electrical and the civil you know, the more you set yourself up for success down the line, cause every, you know you know, every appropriate perspective is being shared and, and not being brought up three weeks after the layout’s been decided upon I think, you know, opening up the communication, but also just making sure there’s a defined kind of leader of the pack, I guess. So that’s the role that I think, you know, really successful EPC you know, project can be a knockout when an EPC is kind of leading that conversation or, or there’s just a really defined the leader.

Donny:

And then, you know, playing the support role for all parties involved and, and staying kind of communicative and, and being ready to pivot as necessary. I think it’s, it is a team effort. Absolutely. You get on these utility scale projects that are, are just massive. So you know, making sure that you know, every voice has kind of heard in that is going to be a challenge no matter what, but I think the more you can, over-communicate the better you’ll set yourself up for success. And maybe just to add to that, I’d say, I mean, I think the communication is absolutely key because like, and you have to look at, you know, what levers do you want to pull on this project versus another right on, and it’s, it’s things that the designers may not initially think about, right? Like if, if a project has a higher PPA rate, right, we’re gonna want to put more DC on that project for willing to spend more money on earth work to get that DC versus if it’s a really tight PPA, I mean, maybe you want to go the opposite direction and we want to look at, okay, it’s this area of the site.

Donny:

As I mentioned before, you don’t have to fear the site have a different cost per watt. Like this has really rolling trains me a lot of grading. That’s an extra 10 cents a watt to go into that watershed and deal with all that train. Do we really want to do that? Or maybe do we scale back a couple of megawatts on the DC side and run that, you know, financial model to see, okay, what production are you losing over the life of the project by eliminating that that DC size versus, you know, the cap ex costs up front and kind of run that analysis to see where, where it breaks even. And, and that said, it changes on every project, right? It’s, it’s, you know, what’s the cost of, of money coming through with the financing, what are the PPA rates and everything tweak this equation. And so you definitely have to communicate upfront to know what are the driving factors for a specific project, and then you can optimize around those factors.

Colleen:

So, Brian, I know we’ve been involved a lot with developers who are in the entitlement part of process, so early stage stuff, and sometimes they get backed into certain lands to use certain setbacks certain landscape requirements as EPC. Do you all have any involvement at that upfront time when some of those commitments are being made?

Brian:

Yeah. If, if we’re engaged early, early on in the, in the process we’ll participate in you know, public meetings meet with the town councils supervisor meetings. We’ll definitely participate. We’ll answer questions, we’ll help kind of find solutions that work for both the developer and the community. So that’s, that’s definitely the preferred approach that we had.

Colleen:

What are the benefits to clients when you all are involved at that stage?

Brian:

Well, I say we can help it, help the project move forward, get approved at kind of the I guess, most reasonable or the lowest costs to, to implement what the, what the ask is. You know, if we can talk about, you know whether it’s shrubs or plants or a berm or, and, you know, screening on the fence, like we can help kind of guide the discussion to the most cost-effective solution that kind of gets everybody what they need.

Donny:

And I would add it also helps kind of when we get to construction, right. If we’ve been involved and know the history, know the nuances of, of the community, of, of the neighbors and who’s concerned about what it could help, maybe how we stage a project or how we phase something. You know, we, we definitely want to be good neighbors and all of this, and, you know, if you’re included early on, you get to hear everyone’s concerns. And, and you can really understand that maybe one neighbor has, you know, they’re, they’re, they have a sheep they’re, they’re grazing, and, you know, they’re concerned about a dust right before the, I don’t know what the term is, but when they, you know, they collect all the wool, right. Because you don’t want them to be extra dirty. I’ve heard the Alana was talking about it.

Donny:

They get at a different price per pound of, of rule, if, if there’s the higher dirt content in. And so you can kind of like, okay, what time of the year is that? Maybe do we stage our project? So we’re, you know, we’ll, we’ll work the land right. At agency right after you’ve gone through that. I don’t know if it’s wool harvest or whatever the term is, but yeah. Thank you. So it’s a little nuances like that, that you, you want to know if you just came on kind of at the end and just started building the project. Right. But if you had those relationships with the community early on, you can find win-wins that, that work for everyone.

Brian:

That’s what I was going to say to Donnie, the relationship, if you have the project superintendent at those meetings early talking to the people in the community, and, and he can say, you know what, I’m going to be the guy that if you have a problem, you can come talk to me. If it’s too dusty, we’ll take care of it. If your road needs smoothed out, like just talk to me and we’ll work it out. And that goes, it goes miles. Yeah.

Colleen:

Yeah. Those relationships are super key. So we have a question from the audience, and I think this is super relevant right now with how hot the industry is. The question is obviously a developer’s success depends significantly on getting the right BPCs on their team when EPC is, are receiving more invitations to bid on jobs than they can reasonably take on how they decide which developers to focus on.

Donny:

For the most part, I’d say it’s it’s past experience, right? And it’s really based on mutual trust, right? It’s we know that developers are way better at developing projects than we are. They understand the entitlements more that they do so much stuff. They understand the financing, all this stuff, way better than we’re going to. And then we let you know, they’re the experts there. They run that our teams, the experts on the sign and construction of the projects. And I think we can be the most successful windows, kind of that mutual trust going you know, mutual so both ways. But if you trust the EPC to do what they do best, it’s the smoothest process, right. And if we can have a much smoother process that involves less resources on the EPC side and less personnel resources it’s just things like, you know, certain developers have, you know, real stringent, you know, review of submittals and RFIDs, and one of the C you know, 30, 60, 90, a hundred percent plan sets and commenting on our thing.

Donny:

And others are a lot more hands off. And a bunch of this does come with experience, right? You build that mutual trust after building numerous projects together with someone. But if we can go through with the developer where they say, okay, you know, we, we trust you guys know what we’re doing, and we’re going to review the layout, make sure we’re good on that. And then just basically go to, you know, IFP drawing Smith for permit. They’re not requesting oversight and approval of a bunch of stuff. Because again, we have a contract at the end of the day, we’re held to our contract and we need to provide a quality product to the specs in the contract. But there’s a little more of that trust that we’re doing all that instead of the, you know, having to verify every step of the way, again, it just, it allows us to proceed with less resources, right?

Donny:

Less boots on the ground to kind of manage the paperwork side and the administrative side of the build, and really focus on what we do best, which is, you know, building these projects. And so I say that that’s a big consideration for us because there are certain clients that we know will take twice the manpower on site to kind of manage the site versus others. And so if we’re trying to decide which project, you know, which, which clients to focus on, we’re going to go on the ones where we can get more bang for the buck. Right. We could build more projects with fewer people because there’s not as much back and forth with, with the owner

Colleen:

That makes sense. Does the geography of the project T come into account at all? How do you, how do you guys evaluate maybe new geographic markets you enter into, or whether or not to enter into those markets?

Donny:

Do you want, I can take that Brian or you, if you want to do, but I’d say geography definitely plays into it at all, as along with the, the schedule, right? Because you need to look at, you know, is it rolling terrain in the wet season? That’s a less attractive project than a flat site you’re building in the dry season. Right. And again, it just goes back, it’s kind of opportunity costs, right? How, what is, what is the opportunity cost for us? If we’re going to go build a site with a tremendous amount of earthwork in the wet time of the year, you know, we’re not going to be as efficient in the build, right? Whether it’s megawatts per week, or however you measure that metric is going to take us longer to build it, which means that our, you know, there is an opportunity cost, but our crews are on that site longer than how we would prefer to, you know, get them through that site and onto the next project. Right. So we definitely do take that into consideration. And Brendan, I think you had something else you’re going to add.

Brian:

I mean, I, I think when, when comparing projects to right, we’re, we’re looking at it from a, from a risk Rick’s perspective on, on our end and like Dani mentioned what time of the season it is. And we’re building through the winter, we building through the wet season. Is there a lot of grading? Is, is there all of that with a compressed schedule, are the owner provided modules, you know, coming really late where we might have to do some work out of sequence and already assuming over time going into it. So there’s a lot of a lot of those like that can, it can kind of ease our, ease our mind a little bit and kind of let you know this, this would be a good one to to, to go after.

Colleen:

That makes sense. One of the other questions that came through is about the local labor market, and we’re seeing solar’s growing in popularity. So in some of these smaller communities, you know, these big projects are, are, tend to be built in, in more rural or rural areas. And so if there’s multiple utility scale projects going on in the same area you know, local labor is limited. So how do you all kind of navigate that and approach the labor pool?

Brian:

Yeah, so our goal is always to hire as much local labor as possible. And I think on, on most jobs we are, I don’t know what the percentage would be. Probably 90%, 95% would be a local labor we’ve. We bring our, you know, our, our key supervisors and our key management folks from job to job and then hire a local. So we do have you know, job fairs and recruiting and, and try to, to get interest for hiring that way. But yes, at some points it does become challenging. You know, there’s always the pay factor. When, when you ratchet it up a dollar or two an hour, you tend to attract some more folks. So we’ve, we’ve had to do that from time to time. And then kind of the, the other approach is bringing in folks from other areas, right. And, and paying a per diem plus the rate. There’s some folks that just love, love to travel you know, live out of a, a camper and that’s their, that’s their way of life. And in a, between those two approaches we’ve, we’ve been, we’ve been able to staff the jobs adequately so far.

Donny:

Yeah. I would just maybe just add that it’s, I mean, we’d usually do a decent amount of research during the bidding phase to right. To kind of get an idea of the landscape and, you know, do we need to budget in for a per diem, right. Cause we think we’re going to have to pull people in. So as long as you plan for that ahead of time, it’s, it’s really a problem you can solve with, with money, right? It’s like, you can, like Brian said, you can pay fuel more or pay a per diem. I think we’ve really only had, you know, one site that was really truly middle of nowhere and was challenging to get people to that. I can think about the, you know, over a hundred. So we we’ve built, it’s usually been fairly easy with a per diem or a bump, an hourly rate to, to get folks there. And so if you plan for that ahead of time, you can budget in and, and it’s, it’s not a huge deal.

Colleen:

That makes sense. Another question from the crowd. So they’re convinced that engaging in EPC at an early stage has a lot of advantages. So they’re getting that, but the question is, since the EPC price cannot be fixed at those early stages, how do you manage that situation to avoid concerns over partnering from a developer’s perspective?

Donny:

What, well, I guess what we do, which I don’t know might be unique is just like how everything else in this industry is based on a price per watt. When we look at a project, we basically fix our you know, our profit of price for Y and we’re transparent with the developers about that. And then we’ll, we’re fairly open book as we go through the pluses and the minuses, right? So we basically, we agree we’re going to do the job for this fee. And then as we work, you know, that’s kind of how we agree on then as we work through there’s ups and downs, you get, geo-tech found you a tech results and we either need, you know, thicker piles or smaller piles based on corrosion or whatever it is. Right. And we, we go the ups and downs and we’re just transparent with the owners on that. So that that’s really how, how we approached us. We kind of agree on our, our fee to build the product upfront and then are transparent with all the ups and downs moving on.

Colleen:

Yeah. So it sounds like common theme, again, communication. And then back to when you said, you know, how do you pick trust, right. Trust each other. So that makes sense. So Nick, I know you’ve designed thousands and thousands of acres of these solar sites. And when you think of you know, these projects just keep getting bigger. So your one project is going to have a couple thousand acres. Obviously the design can account for every single field condition. The, the due diligence just doesn’t tend to turn off every single possible thing that can happen in the field. So as you work with VPCs, what’s your experience been like partnering through, through construction with the APCs,

Nick:

Like you said, it can’t catch everything. Geo techs not going to do boring every 10 feet. We can’t fully understand what’s going on on the ground. We can’t fully understand if we’re going to run into some native American artifacts or anything we’re digging up. The key is to have a plan for when we have these unknown issues pop up, whether it be a biologist or there’ll be somebody from the native American tribes to be there, to, to make sure that it gets taken care of properly whether we hit rock it’s, we have to work out with a solution to come up with a fix to that problem. And it’s always with its flexibility and communication, it’s working with the EPC to fully understand what the problem is at hand, what they’re sitting out in the field, cause we’re not out there every day.

Nick:

Whether that’s conference calls, screen shares, if it’s really a tough situation, getting out there in the field that you’d lay eyes on it, but it’s it’s first step is definitely fully understanding what, what they’re seeing out there. Because there are ears and eyes. Second thing is working with them to come up, come up with the best solution. And that’s sometimes a little bit out of the box. We might need to regrade a little bit. We might need to kind of adjust some roads fences. We might need to make a couple of panels shifts here or there, which no one loves to do. Cause then we would have a few other partners that have to move things around. But the big thing here is communication and staying flexible and making sure that we’re all on the same page from the designer to the EPC, to the developer make sure that everybody is in agreeance of what we’re looking at doing. And moving forward with one consolidated attack. Yeah.

Donny:

Yeah. And I liked to call that approach that we do Nick, right? It’s a real-time RFI, right? It’s not the traditional, you, you know, contractor marks off something stainless. So we found, sent it to Kenny Harn, wait a week, get a response back and go back and forth. A couple of times, it’s, we’ll get folk on FaceTime, walk around site, show them what’s going on. Nick will hop on a plane and be out there tomorrow. He’s done that for us. You know, we’ll, we’ll, we’ll jump on things and, and really work together to solve it in real time to together. So it’s that communication back and forth.

Nick:

[Inaudible], I mean, They’re extremely tight, especially if there’s other other issues. I mean, there’s going to be multiple issues of Pablo in these sites. It’s just inevitable. There’s no time to go through that. Traditional sending an RFI, wait two days, get a response, sending other couple of responses back and forth. And next thing you know, you wasted two weeks going back and forth when we could all jumped on a conference call work to get work, everything out, got something together and having a solution within a few days. So that that’s the goal is to keep these projects moving as quick as possible with the most optimum solution.

Colleen:

Yes. And I think a lot of that comes down to trust too, right? It’s it’s folks all working together towards the solution and avoiding that finger pointing that everyone hates. So great. So the next question from the audiences so Donnie or Brian, from your perspective, what are the biggest factors that influence civil costs on a job? How do you evaluate and quantify them at the earliest stages of the project?

Donny:

The biggest factor is a annual rainfall and typography. Yeah, it’s the combination of, of the two of those and you get both of them and then that’s when it’s really bad, right? If you have, you know, lots of steep slopes and a tremendous amount of rain each, each year, but the amount of rain you get plays a huge part in it, right? Whether you’re getting 10 inches a year out in the Southwest versus 40 inches a year in the Midwest, it’s a dramatically different civil designed to handle that amount of water. I mean, it’s not just, you know, more basins, larger basins, but you need significantly more BMPs through, on the site to control erosion. Cause you’re having to deal with much higher velocities, much larger quantities of water. So it’s more erosive force that you’re dealing with out there. And then that also impacts, you know, depending on the soil type, you know, workability of the site, you know, it is a, you know, more Sandy and it can rain in the morning. You’d still work that afternoon or is it a slimy, you know, mess after it rains. And you’re out of commission for two, three days because you can’t move across the site without sinking. And so there’s lost productivity that goes into that as well on, on a civil side and on a Brian. And you’ve you have any more thoughts on that? That was the big thing I was going to touch on is not falling into the, of

Brian:

Just looking at rain days, but it’s the, after the, after effect the impact on construction, because it could last 2, 3, 4 days until everything dries out enough, you’re able to get back out there and,

Donny:

And to be able to slide that range once a week. That’s very challenging, right? Then it takes three, four days to dry out.

Brian:

It’s a never ending. It’s a never ending loop.

Donny:

Yeah. And then the one other part is I will say the, the jurisdiction you’re in we are seeing, especially as you move further east to the east coast there are some very stringent jurisdictions with requirements that are just by their design. Well, not by design, but due to the nature of those requirements, it’s going to be a much more expensive civil design. You know, some places require you detained since the whole hundred year storm, right? So much larger base, much larger infrastructure to handle that. And, and certain places are just stricter than others on, on the swim and, and the BMPs and what is acceptable or not acceptable BNP. So, you know, what might be acceptable in California is not acceptable in Virginia. Then the large part of that is, you know, the rainfall difference they get, but just kinda understanding that that too it’s you know, even say Virginia, it, depending on which counties you’re in, there’s different requirements and it could be a dramatic price difference from one county to the next, depending on what are there stormwater regulations that counting

Brian:

What, and when one part of that too prices and schedule, I know that there are certain jurisdictions that you can only disturb a certain amount of acreage at a point, and then you have to restore it or get it stabilized before you can move on. And, you know, when you’re talking hundreds or thousands of acres, it can really extend, send out a project.

Colleen:

Yeah. Well, and a follow up to that, that question this person had was when you’re evaluating, like say or developer evaluating different APCs for these different jobs, what are things you should be looking for or asking them about to get a good sense about their ability to address and manage those costs during the project.

Donny:

And I think it’s past experience and expertise. Yeah, I mean, there, there’s definitely things we do better than other APCs and definitely things that other APCs do better than us. Right. And hopefully if, if the EBC team understands how to price that that can come out during the early bid phase, right. That, you know, we’ll recognize that something is not our strength and therefore it’s going to cost us more money or, or vice versa with what some of our competitors out there. It’s hopefully that kind of gets worked out, but I think it’s, it is experience. That’s really what it can really come down to is just extreme.

Brian:

Well, and I think kind of building on the, on the experience part, you can get a sense of how well the EPC understands the project in those early discussions, right? If, if they’re, if they’re really engaged and, and are having some, you know, thoughtful responses to some of the questions as opposed to, you know, shooting high on, on the number and we’ll figure it out later sort of approach. So I think the developer can kind of gain a lot from, from early on, early on discussions like that

Donny:

And see where outliers are again, not to pick on Virginia, but they have some of the more stringent stormwater requirements. I mean, you know, we’ve been in situations where folks say, wow, your number looks crazy high compared to someone else. And they come back a year or two later, and it’s like, your number was correct. And it’s, it’s like sometimes you, you get a couple of folks who actually have experienced in the region, understand what the requirements are versus someone who’s newer to that region. And they may not. So I’m not saying someone can’t be successful being neutral region. And we want to move to new regions too, but just be aware of that, right. If someone is coming in significantly lower price than the other bidders, and that is their first time in that region, that’s a red flag. So just kinda, kind of keep, just, yeah, put that in context.

Colleen:

And I’ll just add from the engineering perspective, you know, Kimberly Morin’s been around the industry for a long time, met a lot of people talk to a lot of people, experience working with lots of different people. We’ve also been a resource for developers if they’re kind of like newer working with newer APCs, what’s your gut on this? Because it can be pretty obvious as a consultant early on if someone is, is knowledgeable in the area and going to be able to, to handle especially a tougher site. So use your partners as well, both the consultants and other folks in the industry. It’s a small world out there

Donny:

And Kimley-Horn is great at that. We do that all the time, you know, cause they have offices everywhere. So if we move into a new region, it’s like, all right, Coleen, what do we need to know about this area? Yeah, so they are a great resource. Definitely use them for that.

Colleen:

Well, we’re happy to help. So this is an interesting question around the rain that you all were talking about since that’s such a key piece of it. How has the increasing severity of weather patterns and events changing the way you’re planning your construction on the project sites? Or has that been something you all have been starting to take into consideration at this point?

Donny:

Well, I think we, this is somehow we, we seem to get records broken on all of our job sites, whether it’s most rainfall, you know, in a winter cold winter, whatever. Yes, we, we seem to have a good track record of doing that. So I think we definitely have an experience in that at this point, but it’s, I go on pride? Well, I’m sure that’s true. That was better than what I was going to say. And I can’t remember what I was gonna say now though, what, maybe I’ll just follow up with them. I mean, yes, we are having to plan for this. I might think we are realizing, I think the industry is seeing, especially as it comes to the civil costs they are going in and because things are not getting easier and I mean, I’m joking, but not really am.

Donny:

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve said, you know, this is record-breaking rainfall, you know, the most number of rain days in a year and you know, over the season and 50 years, I mean, this is happening more and more. I can tell you how many hundred year storms we’ve seen, hit our sites, right. And, you know, statistically, if they were truly a hundred year storms, that wouldn’t happen, but the, the frequency is increasing. We are, we are seeing more of that. So there is more contingency going into the civil and that is a discussion with the developer, how to handle that. Is it truly a, I mean the traditional, you know, market has been, it’s a true lump sum costs. You know, Swinerton kind of prides itself on not really change ordering folks. So we’re going to hold a little more contingency in that if we are committing to a full lump sum costs, versus we are seeing some developers saying, well, you know, we want to take part in some of that risk and therefore get a lower continuancy, right?

Donny:

Get a lower price upfront and say, let’s assume for the best case scenario for the winter and price it out that way. And then if it does get worse, you know, we will have a mechanism in place to track that and change that accordingly. So it, it depends on how much risk the developer wants to take. Like, so we’re seeing it both ways. Some want us to take the whole risk, which does have a cost associated with it. And others are willing to take on some of that risk themselves in order to lower cap ex

Colleen:

That makes sense to me when the second part of that question was so for Ryan or for Nick and I have some thoughts, cause I don’t think there’s a black and white answer on this too, but I’m curious to hear what you all think these changing weather and patterns and events are those impacting engineering design at this point yet.

Ryan Ams:

I think that’s a great question. I think that’s the direction. It will continue to go. I don’t know if it’s easy, if it’s simple to pinpoint it to that, but I think, you know, as we to have conversations with, you know, authority having jurisdiction and DNR organizations and we’re having that face-to-face interaction, I think we’ll continue to see how, how those organizations are changing their perspectives on erosion control measures and stormwater management. So I don’t know. And, and Nick, I’ll let you chime in too, if, if we can see it quite yet, but I think, you know, a smart consultant and engineer is anticipating the change like, you know, Donnie was saying. And so I think that’s another, it’s a, it’s a good feather in the cap of really leaning on your partners and developing those relationships between the dev developers, the EPC, the engineers, and, you know, Kimley-Horn can provide that service where we’re having those conversations first with the, you know, jurisdictions that are, are going to be defining those standards and upholding the projects and construction sites to those standards. So I don’t know if, I don’t know if you can pinpoint it yet. I think we’re all, you know, seeing the direction it’s going. And I think the more proactive you can be obviously sets up projects for success rather than, you know, being reactive.

Donny:

Maybe I would just have not mean it’s not on the design side, but just kind of more generally we found good success, just talk to the landowner, right? The farmer that’s been there for three decades they are going to give a lot of great insight, right. As to, you know, they’ve been work in the land for decades and they, you know, it’s anecdotal, but they’ll be able to tell you, yeah, this is beginning, progressively worse. And, and to me it could be a which direction, right? Some places we’re working, it’s getting progressively worse and it’s more and more drought each year. And what we’re more concerned with dust control then than erosion. But you’ll get a real good sense of how things have been changing and kind of, if you could project that forward, is it going to continue to get better or worse just by talking to the landowners who have been there forever,

Nick:

We’ll we’ll design to the standards, but as everyone’s kind of mentioned here, things are changing. So the standards have been around for awhile, but what’s going on right now in the world is not really what was going on when they built those standards. So the AHJs are kind of influx as well. So to Ryan’s point, we’re trying to communicate with them and get an understanding of what they’re looking for, what what’s going on out in the field. And then to Donny’s point, Matt, and understand from the landowners and nearby neighbors, w what’s really happening on site because these AHJs don’t make statewide decisions, but that’s not going to be exactly what’s happening on every site everywhere. So it’s, it’s trying to figure out what’s going on at our specific site, which is definitely a challenge. And then w no matter what you do, you’ll still get a hurricane rolling through, and it blows everything out of the water, but it’s trying to be proactive, trying to fully understand the site, not only the, the standards that are written on paper, but what the site’s going to do or what it’s been doing recently in the past.

Nick:

So that we’re more well prepared for that when that storm event comes rolling through.

Colleen:

Yeah. All great points. The next question is about new technologies. So what types of technologies have you been looking into or heard about that help automate, or maybe even just partially automate the installation of the solar array? Is there anything out there that’s looking promising from an ROI perspective?

Donny:

I mean, the, the ones that we’ve actually implemented is drones. So everything like for IRR scans that has been a tremendous savings on the commissioning side of things. I think the question is probably leaning more towards like autonomous pile driving rigs. We’re not there yet, in our opinion. I mean, there, there is potential for that. But we’re just not seeing it yet. We’ve we have done some pilot tests and it, it’s not to the degree of accuracy that we’re comfortable with. And frankly, we, we can install piles fairly cheaply. So it’s not, it’s not a huge dollar savings to do that, but that’s, that’s kind of only the, the, the new technology I could think of that’s improving installation and all your thoughts, Brian.

Brian:

No, that’s definitely the big one. I think, I guess it’s not necessarily new technology, but right. If, if you do things and often try little tweaks, you find slightly better ways to do it. And I think that’s where we’re seeing our most kind of improvements so far as opposed to the technology, just a, even a little bit of a trial and error. And then, you know, our teams will we’ll share the ideas like, Hey, we’re, we’re doing this way, which is, you know, slightly different than we had been doing it before. And, and now you don’t have to do this. And then it just kind of like spreads like wildfire. That’s probably not the right way to term to use these days, but it’s, you know, it spreads across the team and and kind of on and on.

Donny:

Okay. Yeah, I agree. I think it’s a lot of little incremental steps is what we’re, we’re really seeing and focusing on. So there’s definitely innovations in, you know, some of the electrical BOS side of things and, and racking and, and they’re already, yeah, I guess I took the question to be more kind of the automation side of things. Also we are using the machine graders. I think that’s been fairly common now in the industry. So you’re not out there actually doing surveying for everything. It’s all the GPS on the civil equipment. And that technology is solid. That’s there no issues with that, but yeah, with kind of any automated surveying or pile driving stuff, we haven’t really seen that be effective yet.

Colleen:

Makes sense. So, as a developer, when a developer’s evaluating a piece of, of land for a site, obviously they’re trying to de-risk it and make sure that it’s worth going forward. I know there’s some developers that are more in the you know, the business of doing the upfront development and then, and then turning it over or trying to get APCs involved or, you know, just get it to that point of getting an EPC involved. So I’m curious when you’re looking at you know, when you’re bidding on a site I know there’s a wide range of information that developers provide to the bitters. What would you say is the ideal package that you would receive to give a good solid bid to a developer? Let’s call it a competitive bid situation here and that they can get an apples to apples, to apples comparison and what they receive back

Donny:

A geo-tech with, excuse me, geo-tech with corrosion and pile testing and preliminary hydrology are and typography, probably the, the main ones I can think of because other than typical, just, you know, alti makes sure we, we know that the boundaries, the setbacks, the easements for the site, but I’d say probably one of the biggest risk is it’s the underground risk. So getting good geo-tech so I, I do always like to advise that if you can, you know, engage your EPC early, let them advise on the geo-tech you know, like we do our own pile testing and prefer that, you know, we can always give a more accurate price if, if we pile tested versus just reading the report from someone else. Because in addition to just the results, we get some like that, you know, anecdotal feel from, from the crews, doing a pile testing, just generally, how easy is it to move around how, you know, how the pile is going in. And just that, that kind of, some of those just you get the gut feel for it, right? That help you kind of decide what’s the more appropriate metrics you’re going to get for some of the installs. In addition to just looking at results where you’re, you might be able to determine the pilot design, but not necessarily get great data on install metrics for a certain job.

Brian:

Hey, Donna, do you want to touch on developer layouts, single lines, 30% drawings?

Donny:

Absolutely. Thanks for prompting me on, on that. It’s kind of goes back to what I said. I think in the beginning, like call that what is most often one EPC is not going to be for the others. So I don’t see, typically if we have a developer contours with say a 30% pack, let’s say bid this, we almost always throw out the design design on ourselves and on some, in an alternate bid that we came up with, I mean, we’ll, we’ll bid with what the owner gave us, but we almost always can come up with something cheaper. And it’s not that what the developer did was wrong. It’s just, it’s not optimized around our program. Right. Just, we have developed a certain, you know, we have some around proprietary products that have gone through UL that have some savings that, you know, other people want to know about and we can design it to use our stuff you know, focus on, you know, the equipment, you know, things that we can install easily with the current we own versus liquid we’d have to lease.

Donny:

And we can just keep the price a lot more competitive if we’re designing it specifically around our needs. So yeah, well, I mean, we’re, we understand sometimes folks want to kind of quote-unquote apples to apples comparison and, and everyone bid the same set of drawings in my mind. That’s not really an apples apples comparison because that’s not us putting our best foot forward. And it’s probably not our competitors putting their best foot forward either. Right. It’s, we’re are trying to conform to this, this set of, versus if you get more of a generic, here are the guidelines, right? This is the production we’re trying to hit, you know, the, the system size, you know, kind of what are the constraints and let us optimize the system around, you know, our, you know, our, our program, right. In a sense, I think if, as long as you have a good I’ll call it performance back, you know, what are we trying to accomplish? This is the design life, the, the minimum production, the minimum, you know interconnection get a couple of these items and compare apples to apples on that front, rather than trying to have everyone bid the same layout just cause you have to, if we’re four, so at on a certain direction, I mean, we’re happy to do it, but it’s, it’s most likely not going to be the most cost effective approach for us.

Colleen:

So I’m really glad you highlighted that because I think that’s something that we advise our developer clients on a ton, but something that we’ve been seeing as, you know, not every EPC out there is, is Swinerton level experience. And because of how fast the industry is growing the experience, DPCs, can’t do every project. Right. So, so, so in the situation where you all as very experienced folks can take that little bit of information, do a design, give a really realistic and solid bid. What’s your perspective on when a developer maybe doesn’t have the relationship built up with the, the top VPCs. And as we mentioned, trust, and that relationship’s important for ABCs to pay attention, what would you say to that developer who’s, who’s kind of going out to maybe folks that aren’t as experienced in solar. Is it more valuable in that case to maybe give them more to go off of, or I guess, how would you handle that? Just put yourself in the developer’s shoes?

Donny:

I mean, that’s definitely a tricky one. I think it’s really hard for a developer to try to specify that don’t think I, especially on the electrical balance of systems. So like we sell perform stuff, but a lot of BPC subcontract that out and like, they need to know who their electrical install partner is. Cause it could dramatically affect how you want to lay out the blocks for a project. So I, I mean, I think it’s going to be challenging to truly get the most optimum. I mean, if you not, not saying any design can only be a perfectly good design, right. It just, we might be able to do it for a little bit cheaper if we optimize it around the way we do stuff, you know electrical subcontractor, if they give advice and review you know, they might be able to optimize around how, how they, you know, are efficient at installing things, right. They like, well, if we do it this way, we can shave off 10% of the labor. Cause we’re used to doing it this way versus telling our retraining our guys to install it a different way. So that I don’t have a good answer for that one. Sorry.

Colleen:

I don’t either. It’s just a conversation that I’ve been having with a lot of developers and it’s kind of like, everyone’s like, well, you know, I don’t know. Let’s, let’s try it this way and see what happens. We’ve only got one minute left and I’ve got one follow up question from the audience that I think is a really important one and a good one to end on. So we obviously spend a lot of time talking about how it’s great to get your EPC is involved early to be part of that decision-making but the question is, you know, systems are overwhelmed right now. So how early is too early to not overwhelm contractor resources for that input and review pre PPA post PPA, what would you say is, is the sweet spot?

Donny:

I hate to say it depends because if it’s a repeat client, you know, a partner we’ve worked with for awhile, I’d say it’s never too early, you know bring us in as that partner, just to help advise on, Hey, we’re looking at building in this region, what are the challenges to look out for? Right. And, and we’re going to help add as advise on that. If it is a, a developer we have not worked with before we would probably want to see something that has a PPA and interconnection agreement in place to, to kind of fully vet that it’s essentially a real project that is going to go forward, because unfortunately you do see a lot of these kind of die on the vine as they come down. But for, you know, past clients where we’re happy to, you know, provide consultation on that.

Donny:

And, and sometimes like we, we wish folks, you know, path clients would would’ve come to us sooner and would have said, man, we would have told you to stay clear this area. You should not have invested in this project. Like you realize there a 10 cent adder on the civil that’s going to be required for this job. And yeah. You know, had you brought us in early, we could have advised you not to buy this land and, and to go somewhere else. And so when you have those partnerships, it’s much easier to go in early on, but you do need to establish that trust and get to that point first. So probably the first one I’d say we would like to see yeah, kind of a real product. Some that has the entitlements it’s entitlements with TPA and interconnection

Colleen:

Makes sense to me. Well, we are out of time. Thank you everyone so much for joining us. Thanks to Donnie Brian, Nick and Ryan, for your time on the panel today. For questions that we did not get to we’ll respond to virtually and there, this will be posted a recording of this for those of your friends that couldn’t join. So thank you everyone so much and look forward to seeing you at our next solar series of that.

Donny:

Thanks for having us.

About the Panelists

Ryan Ams<br/>Civil Engineer, Kimley-Horn

Ryan Ams
Civil Engineer, Kimley-Horn

Ryan Ams is a civil engineer located in Chicago, IL. He provides entitlement support, site civil engineering design and permitting, and construction phase services for energy projects in the Midwest and across the country. With a focus on energy and renewable projects, Ryan’s experience ranges from electric vehicle charging stations to commercial and utility-scale developments.

Donny Gallagher, P.E., LEED AP<br/>Director of Engineering, Swinerton Renewable Energy (SRE)

Donny Gallagher, P.E., LEED AP
Director of Engineering, Swinerton Renewable Energy (SRE)

Donny has worked for SRE since 2013, providing engineering management, design, and entitlements for public and private facilities. In his time with SRE, Donny has led the engineering and permitting teams on over 170 turnkey EPC projects totaling more than 7.5 GW. His focus is on implementing real time input from our construction teams and insight gained from plant performance analytics to provide clients with the highest ROI achievable. As the Director of Engineering, Donny develops and maintains strategic design, manufacturing, and technology partnerships across the industry to ensure that SRE stays on the cutting edge of innovation and quality.

  Brian Irlbeck, MBA<br/>Project Executive, Swinerton Renewable Energy (SRE)

Brian Irlbeck, MBA
Project Executive, Swinerton Renewable Energy (SRE)

Brian Irlbeck is responsible for the oversight planning and construction of large-scale solar PV projects. His responsibilities include the supervision of the preconstruction effort, regular project reviews to ensure conformance to the contract obligations, and consultation with the project team should any major issues arise on the project. Brian has worked for Swinerton since 2006 and has experience on a wide variety of construction projects in the renewable energy, educational, retail, new construction, tenant improvement, renovation, modernization, and residential markets.

Nick Lamek, P.E.<br/>Profesisonal Engineer, Kimley-Horn

Nick Lamek, P.E.
Profesisonal Engineer, Kimley-Horn

Nick is a professional engineer with more than nine years engineering experience in both public works and private development with the past three years specifically focused on water resources and flood management. Nick has experience working for and submitting to all local agencies, and has developed construction documents based on hydrologic analysis, hydraulic analysis, grading, utility design, and storm drain design.

Colleen Marnell, P.E.<br/>Professional Engineer, Kimley-Horn

Colleen Marnell, P.E.
Professional Engineer, Kimley-Horn

Colleen is a professional engineer with more than 13 years of experience in planning, design, and construction. Colleen's experience includes site development, detailed drainage design, utility design, erosion control design, water quality design, and permitting for renewable energy and commercial developments. Colleen is Kimley-Horn's national solar representative and has been involved in energy projects across the country, from California to Maryland. She has worked on over 100 solar projects ranging in size from 1 MW to 500 MW.

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