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Take a moment to hear from Val Locker as she talks solar trends, project management strategies, and Ultimate Frisbee. 

Valerie (Val) Locker has more than 10 years’ experience in the environmental consulting industry and has been an essential part of the ECT team for the past year and half.  She has experience in project management, environmental permitting and planning for private, public, and linear projects.  Her permitting and project management experience has made her a dynamic addition to the team, as Val was immediately able to step into the project manager role and successfully lead multiple projects simultaneously.

“Val has done an exceptional job taking over the client management of one of my legacy solar clients, and due to her hard work, they have continued to award solar project work to her throughout the Midwest and Southeast,” stated Jessica Miller, Senior Manager-Midwest, Natural Resource Group.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Researching the regulations for each state. I know this may sound nerdy, but I think it’s interesting to see how environmental differences and historical context influences various policies and regulations from state to state.   A challenging, yet exciting, part of my job is speaking at public meetings in support of local permitting.  You never know what sort of questions you’re going to get, so you have to be fully prepared and ready to adapt.

You’ve been at ECT for less than two years and are already leading two solar projects in Indiana, a market that is newer to the team.  This is a remarkable feat! What challenges have you encountered working in a new market and how did you overcome those? 

I’ve been involved with projects in several newer states and a few of those states, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, I’ve found to have more complex regulations than those in Indiana. Working in states with complex regulations has prepared me to know what to look for in state/local codes and how to approach various agencies for clarification and support.  I work closely with Ruth Ann Sobnosky (NR, Northfield) and she’s excellent at reaching out to the agencies at the start of the project. We’ve found this to be key as it helps build a level of trust early on with the agencies.

Solar energy has been increasing in popularity recently, what are some newer trends that you have seen within the solar industry? 

The two hot topics lately have been using “deer” fencing, aka agricultural fencing, instead of metal chain-link, and incorporating native pollinator-friendly plantings into the site vegetation plan.

I’ve heard of solar grazing, or the use of livestock to maintain vegetation under solar panels, and I truly appreciate certain companies livestreaming their “lamb cams”.  Have you been involved in initiatives such as these, or what are some other interesting programs or aspects about solar projects that people may not know about?

I have not been involved in solar grazing specifically, although stakeholders at open houses have expressed interest. Honestly the current focus for my projects thus far has been to identify and select the appropriate seed mixes for low-growth grasses and clover beneath the arrays and pollinator-friendly plantings around the edge such that minimal maintenance will be needed. One of my favorite aspects of solar is that when it’s installed in an area that was previously cultivated cropland, the perennial grasses planted within the arrays will actually increase stormwater infiltration and therefore improve both water quality and runoff issues. It’s just so gratifying when developments have multiple positive environmental effects.

How did you get involved in this line of work?  Has this always been the career path that you wanted?

I wasn’t aware that this industry existed initially.  I was working on a master thesis at a research-based university when I realized it was not what I wanted to do.  So, I switched gears and took a job as an arborist on an invasive species management program.  I was fortunate to start early in the life of the program, and I was rapidly promoted through various middle-manager positions as the program grew from 10 staff to over 100.  The company had other natural resource-focused opportunities and I was able to transfer to ecological consulting where I expanded my knowledge and experience within the industry.

COVID-19 has affected everyone in numerous ways, what have been the biggest changes or challenges that you’ve experienced due to the pandemic? 

We had to postpone our Colombian wedding that was scheduled for March due to COVID. My husband is originally from Colombia and I’m from New England, so using technology to stay in touch with our families has been the biggest change we’ve had to adapt to. I have two young nephews and it’s been hard being away from them for so long when they seem to be changing every day!

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

Before COVID, my husband and I were heavily involved in Ultimate Frisbee. We both played on competitive club teams that travel to tournaments across the region. We’re also board members for our local Ultimate Frisbee organization that schedules leagues, and we love going to more casual “party” tournaments. I’ve played tournaments across the northeast and northwest as well as in Georgia, Florida, California, Seattle, Toronto, Italy, and Spain! Unfortunately, I can’t seem to throw a disc without making a stank eye…