Financing Bioeconomy Ventures, Pt. 10 – Regulatory and Community Concerns in Plant Site Selection
by Daniel Lane and Mindy Collier (Lee Enterprises Consulting/Biofuels Digest) However, while business matters are important when determining a location to build and operate a production facility, it’s important to pay close attention to regulatory and community concerns. While it’s certainly possible to site, build, and operate a facility with minimal outreach to regulatory agencies and local communities, opening relationships early can lead to an easy transition to a new location. In order to plan for these concerns, it helps to have a good grasp as to the type of issues one faces when looking to site a new production facility.
Job One: Find the Regulations
First, let’s start our discussion with one of the most commonly asked questions: How do you know or find out what regulations you have to deal with? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not straightforward, as it depends on the location and type of work to be done at the site. For example, if one is looking at a greenfield plant construction, there are far more regulations to abide by, and more permits for which to apply. If the plan is to take over an existing facility and modify production, that’s clearly a lot easier – but not necessarily a slam dunk. Either way, site selection is often taking place early in the Front End Loading process, and process specifics have not always been established, making it difficult to determine all of the regulations that will need to be dealt with. A good way to consider the question is to consider it broadly early in the site selection process, and in more detail as the list of alternatives is winnowed down to the final options.
Site and Community Screening
Later in the site selection process, regulatory and community concerns need to be considered in more detail. Aside from property characteristics, what utilities are available? Not only is this key to the facility design, but it also identifies agencies that will need to be dealt with. For example, is steam available? If not, you will likely need to talk to the local air district for boiler emissions permitting, as well as the local gas utility about installing a meter and high pressure service. The latter might even require demolition and construction permits, depending on whether the site includes a retrofit.
What about manmade or natural hazards, or nearby waterways or watersheds? Most facilities in the renewables industry are going to have chemicals stored on site in quantities that will require an EPA ID number, a spill prevention control & countermeasures plan, hazard mitigation or accidental release plan, storm water pollution prevention plan, et cetera. In addition to release/response plans, a site will be required to maintain and demonstrate permit compliance with periodic inspections and testing that needs to be budgeted for in start-up and continued operations.
From the community standpoint, what does the local economy look like?
Community infrastructure and sustainability is also important. How are the local water and wastewater utilities? Is the local water going to have to be treated prior to introduction to the process? Is the project going to have to include wastewater treatment and the associated permitting and compliance issues?
“Not in my backyard,” or NIMBY, is a frequent complaint when plants announce proposed sites.
Inclusive Overall Approach
By including consideration of regulatory requirements and local communities in an organized approach to site selection, projects can go a long way to assuring success. Federal, state, and local agencies are always willing to help businesses identify permitting and regulatory compliance issues, but proper due diligence and up-front planning can make a huge difference. Ask for clarification on local regulations and get to know the agencies that will be regulating your plant. Getting involved in discussion early can open doors within a local community, and community acceptance goes a long way in getting the cooperation a company needs when moving into a new area. Local government officials, fire marshals, and the neighboring businesses can either be your best or your worst friends when choosing a site. Being a good community steward can make the perfect site a gold mine for everyone involved.