Mackenzie Meinhold – AES
Sometimes the most meaningful projects are the ones that take a little longer to come together—something Mackenzie Meinhold knows all too well. The associate general counsel at AES is nearing the completion of a wind farm project more than five years in the making.
“It’s been a very long lead time, so we’re really excited to see this project come to fruition,” she says.
Construction of the Chevelon Butte Wind Farm, located in northern Arizona, began in March and will be completed in two phases. Once operational in summer 2023, the 238-megawatt first phase of the wind energy project will be the largest wind farm in the state. With up to 477 megawatts at full buildout, which is expected in 2023, it will be one of the largest single wind energy projects in the western U.S.
AES, headquarterd in Arlington, Virginia, is a Fortune 500 global energy company engaging in solar, wind and battery storage projects throughout North, Central and South America.
On these renewable projects, Meinhold is involved all the way through. She first supports real estate and strategic development teams as they look for land. Once the teams apply for and are approved for interconnection rights, the projects undergo an interconnection study, which is when Meinhold becomes more closely involved. The study process, which typically takes one to four years, determines how renewable energy systems will connect to the grid.
Once the studies are in process and the project is deemed commercially viable, Meinhold works on permitting and negotiates contracts for construction and equipment purchases so construction can begin. She also works on mergers and acquisitions for projects underway that AES purchases.
“I have to understand many different aspects of law to do this work,” she says. “The process can be arduous and time consuming, but I love knowing that the end result is something that will help our planet.”
The Chevelon Butte Wind Farm will generate enough power for over 150,000 homes each year, according to AES’s website. Because of the wind farm’s size—up to 164 wind turbines will be constructed across 42,000 acres of land—it’s located in two counties. This meant Meinhold needed to obtain permits in each and coordinate them.
Permitting is often a long process, she says, with a project she’s been working on in New York a prime example. Riverhead Solar 2, located in Suffolk County, will be a 36-megawatt solar facility powering 8,500 homes each year. In 2020, AES applied for a permit under New York’s Article 10 permitting process, which required several months of sending additional information to the state’s Department of Public Services siting board.
Concurrently, the state enacted a new permitting process, known as Section 94-c, made for major renewable energy developments, whereas Article 10 is for electricity generating projects. Projects under Article 10 consideration were offered to opt-in to Section 94-c, which AES did in early 2021.
“The process was more streamlined and efficient,” Meinhold says. “Last summer, we became one of the first projects approved in New York under 94-c.”
The project has been in the works since 2017 and construction is anticipated to start later in 2022. It’s expected to be completed in 2023.
Meinhold always works on several large projects at once—in 2020 she oversaw acquisition of a portfolio of nine projects in New York alone, totaling over 1,000 megawatts.
While she finds the work fulfilling, she says it’s not without its challenges, which is why she’s grateful to have peers who support her. Since 2020, she’s been part of Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy and recently became co-chair of the mentoring committee. The nonprofit provides women in the industry with resources, support and community.
“I’m super passionate about one-on-one mentorship for women,” Meinhold says. “There aren’t a lot of women leaders in solar, so I want to help women find their path and advance.”
At AES, she’s part of Women of Clean Energy, an internal resource group that advises on company policy to ensure its inclusive and equitable. The group writes newsletters and hosts panels, workshops and speakers.
“I’m very proud of the work we do and hope we can be an example for the industry,” Meinhold says. “I started in solar when it was even more male-dominated than it is now, so it’s important to me to support women in this field.”
Meinhold has worked in the solar industry since 2015 when she was hired as a staff attorney at SunEnergy1, a solar developer in North Carolina. In less than two years, she was promoted to chief counsel.
From there, she worked at the Washington, D.C.-based firm Mintz Levin in its renewable energy development and finance practice group before deciding to go back in house in 2019. She was associate general counsel for sPower, a renewables company in Salt Lake City, for almost two years before it merged with AES.
Meinhold says she’s always wanted to have a career working with the environment. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Pittsburgh and a J.D. with a concentration in environmental law from Lewis and Clark Law School.
“I went to law school to be an environmental lawyer and fight the good fight,” she says. “That didn’t work out quite as I planned, but I’m happy with where my career has led me.”
She says she loves working at AES because of the variety of work and the ability to be part of ‘the big picture’ on projects. She also enjoys learning about other renewable energy projects, such as battery storage, from other teams at the company.
“I feel really good about what we do every day to decarbonize the grid and offset fossil fuels,” Meinhold says. “Climate change is undeniable and if we don’t do something, our Earth will continue to get warmer. AES tries to be a good steward of this planet and I’m proud to be part of that.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2022 Edition here.
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