Many see big growth in Maine’s renewable energy potential. James W. Sewall Co., a Maine-based company with 140 years of civil engineering experience, has a view of that future from the ground up. For the second in a series of interviews with Sewall’s experts, Senior VP of Engineering Brett Hart discusses the role of civil engineering in planning for Maine’s wind and solar development prospects.
Q: Describe some of your current projects in the renewable energy field.
Brett Hart: We are seeing the biggest interest in renewable projects in wind and solar energy. Wind energy projects are bigger and more comprehensive. Solar projects tend to be smaller and there are more of them. In both cases, civil engineering is needed for stormwater design, surveying, site development and permitting, roadway design, and other site work. We work with developers from Maine and from out of state, and our experience working with Maine towns and permitting on all sorts of projects helps us navigate the civil engineering needs of renewable energy projects as interest in these fields pick up.
Q: Renewable energy is getting a lot of attention in Maine right now. Talk about your perspective as a professional who has worked in civil engineering for many years.
BH: We’ve seen interest and investment in renewables grow pretty steadily over the years. Interest in wind energy has been building for a good, long time and the current interest in renewable energy will keep a focus on wind and solar energy in the state. It’s great to see renewable energy create more interest in civil engineering.
Q: It’s interesting that you say that, because one of the subjects that gets covered in state and national media is the job opportunities and the need for training Maine’s workforce for renewable energy jobs. Does Sewall have any trouble finding skilled workers?
BH: I can speak only to the civil engineering side of the renewable energy business, and we are fortunate because the skill set – surveying, siting roads, stormwater run-off, etc. – is mostly the same for whatever type of project we are working on. And, as I said, more people are interested in the field and want to put their skills to work in renewable energy projects. Fortunately, the University of Maine is a great source for our hiring.
Q: Describe some of the “behind-the-scenes” work and research that needs to support the development of solar and wind farms projects.
BH: Whether we are building a road or a solar farm, the foundations are still the same in terms of staying within town and state regulations and getting the proper permitting. Sewall has extensive experience working in Maine and with the state’s environmental and natural resources protection. Developers seek out experienced companies who know Maine’s particular environmental concerns and regulations. We work to improve efficiencies and make the most of time, money and resources to navigate the regulations for developers so that projects can progress quickly and also succeed in the long term.
Q: Some articles about Maine’s renewable energy planning mention transmission constraints as a concern for growing Maine’s clean energy production and usage. Do you share that concern? Does/can Sewall do any work to address energy transmission capacity in Maine?
BH: Transmission is definitely a concern. Our energy transmission infrastructure systems are tapped out, but that means there are plenty of opportunities to grow the infrastructure. Without saying too much about projects in development, Sewall wants to be a part of the solution in Maine.
Q: Where do you see Maine’s renewable energy market in 5 years? What do you see as Sewall’s role in that development?
BH: Renewable energy will continue to grow across the nation and the globe, and Maine is well positioned to benefit. We have the natural resources here, and we have public support for creating new industries in the state. It will be great to see more Maine people start to see some real benefits from renewable energy. We need to see lower energy bills and good jobs to see public support for renewable energy really grow. That’s what needs to happen over the next five years.