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7 Ways Utilities Can Minimize Schedule and Budget Risks from Environmental Requirements

Utilities and developers are often faced with permitting processes that take years to complete at a cost of millions of dollars

Most transmission projects of any significance face risks to schedules and budgets at every step—from feasibility, siting, permitting and design to construction and operation.

For major projects, utilities and developers are often faced with permitting processes that take years to complete at a cost of millions of dollars. These excessive costs and time periods for permitting alone have the potential to jeopardize project success.

With thoughtful leadership and teamwork, it is possible to reduce these risks with some relatively simple adjustments to the way we approach projects. When project teams bring their diverse expertise together to think holistically and collaborate as an integrated team, they’re likely to develop solutions with better outcomes.

Here are seven methods that can be used by project teams to minimize schedule and budget risks.

1. Conduct fatal flaw analysis to identify deal breakers.

Often projects are initiated without looking at the critical issues the project is facing. Conducting a fatal flaw analysis, sometimes called critical issues analysis, can often avoid the pitfalls that can turn a good-on-paper route into a one that jeopardizes the project.

This process often can lead to different routes than initially anticipated, but it helps minimize effects on the environment, land use, cultural resources and water resources, while also weighing access road design, constructability, engineering and cost.

2. Develop and implement a stakeholder outreach plan early to address public concerns.

By engaging the public upfront, you can consider their concerns in the design along with other environmental constraints. This is far more effective than allowing them to become major roadblocks after the route is set. By demonstrating that the public has been engaged from the beginning and throughout all stages, project teams also gain a more defensible design.

3. Include engineers in siting and permitting to evaluate mitigation and constructability.

A straight line is not always the least expensive or quickest to construct. Bringing engineers into the siting and permitting process allows them to help environmental and construction teams consider facility design, constructability, implementation of mitigation and cost to arrive at practical solutions that often save money.

4. Design around environmental constraints to avoid costly mitigation measures.

Avoiding sensitive environmental areas in the design stage of a project reduces risk for potential mitigation that affects schedule and costs. Examples of factors include land ownership, protected species habitat, competing land uses and constructability.

Once constraints are identified in the feasibility stage, the routing team can design alternatives that are easier to permit and construct, thus reducing the overall timeline and cost of the project.

5. Include seasonal restrictions and agency timelines in your schedule to minimize delays.

Agency resource specialists are not concerned with the project timeline; their main focus is the protection of the resources in their regulatory mandate.

As soon as sensitive or protected species are identified, they should be factored into the project schedule. Once construction begins, it’s too late to plan around the often narrow windows of time to survey sensitive species.

Go a step further and combine environmental, engineering and construction timelines in a single, linear schedule. This allows teams to visualize how environmental constraints affect the schedule and identify potential conflicts before they become an issue.  

6. Work together throughout construction to quickly address permitting roadblocks.

Construction teams face so many details daily that the nuances of permits and field conditions can be easy to overlook. Often, the environmental project manager is only called after a problem develops.

Think holistically to take a more proactive approach that heads off problems before they compound. For example, consider including the environmental project manager on all project calls.

7. Clearly communicate environmental commitments to assure compliance during construction.

Construction managers cannot be held accountable for what they don’t know. Major projects have multiple permit conditions and impact mitigation commitments to resource agencies and landowners that are tied to parcels on the project footprint. Developing clear communication tools, like a comprehensive environmental permit book, helps the construction team know what commitments were made to third parties.

Integrated teams lead to successful project outcomes

By thinking holistically and integrating multi-disciplinary project teams throughout all stages of a project, communication and collaboration improve. This leads to rapidly identifying and resolving issues. When engineers, environmental resource specialists and other experts team up, they can:

  • Expedite regulatory approvals
  • Minimize siting changes
  • Decrease mitigation costs
  • Achieve client’s schedule
  • Reduce environmental impacts.

All these achievements are possible while still meeting the commercial and economic needs for the project.

Want to remember the 7 ways? Download this handy reference guide.


Ronald J. Carrington is a Project Director at POWER Engineers. He is a registered Professional Engineer. J. Richard Stoker is an Environmental Services Manager at POWER Engineers and a registered Professional Engineer and registered landscape architect.

POWER Engineers, Inc.  is a T&D World Media partner.

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