Meet the Team: The Project Development Team

February 02, 2022

Sullivan County Democrat – “A Sustainable Tomorrow”, A Quarterly Publication of DRS
By Autumn Schanil

In this issue of the DRS Magazine, we will look at the Project Development Team and how they help turn ideas into reality.

John Schmauch, Director of Project Development

“The development team is the foundation of Delaware River Solar (DRS),” said Director of Project Development John Schmauch, who works on bringing DRS projects through the development lifecycle. “The Development Team is involved in every aspect of bringing a project to life,” explained Schmauch. “This begins by researching land opportunities, utility infrastructure, creating longstanding relationships
with landowners and their families, negotiating leases and purchase options, presenting in front of and working with town and county boards, managing the engineering and surveying teams as well as navigating many other details that come with bringing a community solar array to commercial operation.”

Schmauch has always been interested in renewable power and was working in other states doing exactly that, when NY began talking about bringing community solar to his home state. “Once the legislation was passed at the end of 2015,” said Schmauch, “we created DRS and poured all of our resources and efforts into developing the program.” As with anything, there can be hurdles and challenges along the way, such as lack of remaining capacity to handle a solar site, land falling into an endangered species area, or land in a town with laws that may not work for community solar. “It’s always a challenge telling someone we can’t move forward,” Schmauch stated. “The flip side of that, however, is when we do have the opportunity to move a project forward and work with a family that can truly benefit from the array.”

According to Schmauch, 90 percent of landowners are generational farmers farming generational land, which is becoming harder and harder to do, resulting in more families losing their land over time. “This ‘new crop’ is giving families the opportunity to continue working their land and then pass it on to the next generation,” he added, “and solar is extremely important.“We can harness and use what is given to us freely, the sun and its energy. The sun already powers our planet, keeping the environment and our population growing,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we use the sun’s energy to power and heat our homes and stores, light up our roadways and playgrounds? “It’s smart, it’s practical and most importantly, it’s clean.,” Schmauch said.

“On top of that, community solar allows people to access solar power at no cost to them, lower their electricity bills, lower the pollution from fossil fuels and helps support their local economy.

Rosario Giufré, Project Development Senior Associate

Project Development Senior Associate Rosario Giufre was fortunate enough to join the DRS team through a colleague who joined the Development Team prior to him. His role on the Development Team involves managing the application processes with utilities such as NYSEG
and Orange & Rockland in order to get DRS projects connected to the grid, as well as engaging with landowners to field questions related to the development process. He also assists engineers and local officials with the permitting of the projects. “The development team is essential in bringing community solar farms to fruition by securing interconnection agreements with local utilities, contracts with landowners, and permits from local jurisdictions and agencies, all of which are required to be able to build a project,” Giufré explained.

“We all have a background in environmental policy, and being able to work in a position that allows us to see tangible results of that policy is very satisfying,” he said. Community solar is an economic benefit to both participants, who save on utility bills, as well as landowners, who benefit directly from the contract. Giufré also feels that the transition to Renewable energy resources, especially
now, will be crucial in helping fight against climate change by cutting carbon emissions. “Being able to visit arrays that are up and
running,” Giufré continued, “and to meet the people who are directly benefiting from the projects, is the most rewarding part of what we do.”

Alyssa Nielsen, Project Development Manager

“My MPA in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia University was coming to a close a few years ago, when I found a job listing for DRS that matched everything I was able to provide as an employee,” stated Project Development Manager Alyssa Nielson, “as well as something that aligned with my goals.” Now as Project Development Manager, Nielson works on a variety of things day-today–coordinating with third party engineers to perform environmental reviews of the potential project sites, working with towns on what they require for us to receive permits for the projects and working on the operating portfolio, as well as any potential projects energy partners are interested in purchasing.

“Each town that we work in has different requirements for solar projects to receive permits, so navigating those differences can be challenging,” explained Nielson. “However, the reward of seeing our projects receive their permits is worth it, knowing that we will be able to provide energy for hundreds more homes in that utility territory,” she said.

And what Nielson loves most about community solar and what she does day-in and day-out? Making clean energy accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford to pay for solar panels on their home or office.

Nicole Haghpanah, Project Development Associate

As a member of the Development Team, Project Development Associate Nicole Haghpanah helps guide landowners through the development
process by facilitating communications with various utility companies across the state. “Our team is incredibly collaborative,” Haghpanah stated. “I work closely with our project development partners and our engineers to ensure we create efficient community solar farms that meet both the needs of our landowners as well as their communities. “It’s our responsibility to hit the ground running and identify the most favorable sites in areas where the communities will benefit the most,” she said.

Haghpanah credits DRS’ success due to building their reputation on trust, using their multi-disciplinary approach to help foster relationships with local farmers and officials alike, with the common goal of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. “Being able to give back to different communities is the most rewarding part of what we do,” Haghpanah said. “Providing landowners, who are oftentimes
farmers struggling to keep generational land, an additional source of income while giving back to the community is probably the most fulfilling to me.”