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Consider environmental due diligence as part of project planning—it can save time, money

February 07, 2023

By Robyn Miller

It’s important to consider environmental liability as part of renewable energy and telecommunication projects

So, you’re considering buying or leasing land for new infrastructure or services. Have you also considered your environmental due diligence needs?

As an environmental scientist, I enjoy working alongside my telecommunication, power, and renewable energy clients. One critical step is helping them assess the potential for a property’s environmental concerns before it’s acquired. By doing that, my team can deliver solutions to manage those concerns during project construction and operations.

When looking at a potential property, it’s important to consider potential liabilities that may impact your project. For example, if the property is on or next to a former gas station—or an auto body garage or dry-cleaning facility—there’s the potential for soil or groundwater contamination. This could present additional costs during construction, like excess soil management or additional health and safety issues. Or, if the contamination hasn’t been identified as a preexisting or baseline condition, it could result in liability at the time of decommissioning. 

Expanding your renewable energy or telecommunications footprint? Make sure to do your environmental due diligence.

So, are you planning a new facility? Expanding your renewable energy or telecommunications footprint? Make sure to do your environmental due diligence. Here are items to keep in mind as you look at your potential new site.

What does the location tell you?

This first point might feel obvious, but it’s important to mention. Look at the characteristics of your property. Is it already developed, or is it a vacant, undeveloped space? Is it a farmer’s field, a rural or recreational property, or an urban location within the city?

It’s important to understand the historical use of the property—and neighboring properties. The helps identify potential environmental concerns. For example, if you’re looking at a property in the city, it’s possible that people used it for something that resulted in contamination (e.g., a former fuel storage tank or manufacturing use).

What’s the timeline of your project?

When working with your environmental consultants, it’s vital to share your timeline with them. What’s the timeframe for your build or infrastructure work? Are you completing any other due diligence work, such as a geotechnical investigation? Does your lease or purchase agreement specify a due diligence timeline? These items will drive the environmental due diligence phase. It allows us to identify potential efficiencies.

It’s wise to schedule enough time for the environmental team to complete their work. Make sure your schedule is realistic. Avoiding a time crunch will lead to cost savings. For example, you may not have to pay rush fees for historical background requests or laboratory results. 

Phase II of an environmental assessment involves the investigation of soil and/or groundwater.

Phase I environment site assessment 

When you hire a consultant for a Phase I environmental site assessment (ESA), it typically involves a desktop study along with a site visit. The consultant will look through historical documents, aerial photographs, fire insurance plans, city directories, provincial/state and federal regulatory agency searches, and more. They’ll complete a site visit to learn about the current use of the site and nearby properties.

Whether you’re considering a greenfield site or an urban location, a Phase I ESA will help you learn about the property’s history and assess potential environmental concerns. You’ll learn what risks that former use, neighboring properties, and other factors could pose to the soil and groundwater quality beneath the site.

Did your consultant make recommendations? They’ll discuss the concerns they’ve identified with you and explore next steps. Clients can weigh the risk of accepting the concerns or investigate further with a Phase II ESA. 

Engage an environmental consultant early in your process. … It could save you time and money in the long run.

Phase II environmental site assessment

To be clear: projects may not need a Phase II ESA. But if the Phase I ESA identifies the potential for soil and groundwater contamination, a Phase II ESA can help confirm if it’s true. The Phase II ESA investigates soil and groundwater conditions. This may include drilling boreholes, installing groundwater monitoring wells, and collecting soil and groundwater samples for laboratory testing.

If the testing results meet the regulatory criteria, you can likely wrap up the ESA work at this point. But if the environmental team identifies issues, you may need to consider next steps.

Addressing the contamination

So, you’ve identified environmental impacts at your site. If you’re looking at next steps, work with your consultant to determine possible solutions. Should they perform a risk assessment, or do you move forward with remediation?

A risk assessment evaluates how the contaminants may affect people and the natural environment at the site. It can present options for managing the contamination. By considering site-specific characteristics, a risk assessment may show that the issues will not affect the future use of the site.

If you choose to remediate your site, this involves taking actions to reduce contaminant levels so that they are below the regulatory criteria.

When looking at a potential site, it’s important to understand the site’s history and potential impacts.

Engage environment consultants early

Here’s a tip for my telecom, power, and renewable energy clients: engage an environmental consultant early in your process. It’s our goal to assess the potential environmental liability and establish baseline conditions. It could save you time and money in the long run.

My team can help you establish an understanding of potential environmental concerns. We can undertake soil and groundwater sampling to help establish baseline environmental conditions. And we can provide guidance on the potential effects of environmental concerns on construction costs and timelines. Your lender or other stakeholders may also need initial environmental due diligence assessments to support project financing and investment decisions.

It’s fascinating to investigate sites for my clients, and it’s rewarding to help them produce solutions. Reach out to me if you have any questions about the environmental assessment process. 

  • Robyn Miller

    Robyn is passionate about helping clients navigate regulatory framework. Her goal? To help them understand which environmental liabilities might impact their projects.

    Contact Robyn
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