On the job with a clean energy developer in Alberta

Gareth McDonald

Walk us through a typical day at work. What are your roles and responsibilities?

I work on the development of renewable energy projects in wind, solar and run-of-river hydro. The day-to-day of my work is extremely varied, but the main focus of my role is to develop projects from the inception stage through to construction.

What attracted you to the clean energy industry?

I’ve always been interested in environmental conservation and sustainability. I studied environmental science at university and then eventually joined a wind energy company as a project developer. I had no experience in wind energy development at the time, but I did bring regulatory and environmental experience. I’ve been in the industry for a while now and it feels like I’m doing something good by greening the energy supply. It’s a really interesting field to work in because of the changing landscape of renewable technologies and the fast pace that the industry is growing and evolving.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

My role is diverse and I deal with many aspects of overall project management, including conducting due diligence, coordinating project design, managing stakeholder relations, overseeing regulatory studies and permitting, working with engineering and procurement, managing construction, and finally transitioning the project over to BluEarth’s operations team.

It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen on your project and what barriers you’re going to face. For example, finding new species on site that require certain mitigation, figuring out where you’re going to place aspects of your project, or ensuring stakeholder concerns are addressed. Managing unknowns is always a challenge, but it’s also what keeps things interesting.

What about the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Definitely seeing an operational project generating energy. This is very rewarding. Seeing a project begin as just land leases, plans and permit applications, then driving it forward and watching it grow and get built, and suddenly it’s generating energy—it’s incredible to play a part in that.

What advice would you give to someone interested in this career path?

It’s always about getting in the door. Renewable [energy] is a very specific and fairly small industry, so getting experience can be difficult. Any education on renewables or the issues affecting renewable energy, like regulatory requirements, planning, stakeholder outreach, are all helpful. Any education or experience with electricity transmission networks would also be a benefit to someone interested in this work. I think overall, try to get as much experience as possible. Read up on the issues affecting this industry, and be passionate about it—this goes a long way.

How do you see the renewable energy industry changing in the next 10 years?

In the past 10 years, this industry has been changing fairly rapidly and we’ll see that continue. I think technological advances will make the renewable industry much more efficient, and we’ll continue to see reductions in the cost of generation for renewable electricity. This efficiency will lead to smaller footprints for projects. We’ll see the same amount of power generated with fewer machines. Power will be produced on smaller sections of land, as the capacity of solar modules and single wind turbines become greater. Renewable energy is no longer a new thing, despite what some might say. I think we’ll see a broader social acceptance of renewables as more projects become integrated into landscapes and transmission and electrical networks.

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