Turning Waste into Megawatts with Bryan Wehler, President and CEO of ARM Group
Updated: Apr 14
Welcome to another episode of the Solar Podcast. Today, Dave is talking with Bryan Wehler, President and CEO of ARM Group. They discussed some of the ARM Group's most exciting projects to date, including the 18 megawatt Annapolis Landfill Solar Project. They also discuss cutting through the red tape of permitting and zoning as well as the future of community solar. So let's get right into it on the Solar Podcast.
Dave Anderson (00:36):
Well, we'd like to welcome everyone back to the Solar Podcast. I'm Dave Anderson, the host. We're thrilled to have with us today, Bryan Wehler. Bryan is actually an executive in the solar industry. He has his own engineering firm. Does more than that. We're going to dive into it a little bit today. One of the things we talk a lot about on the Solar Podcast with the soft cost of solar and how do we can make it simpler for consumers to go solar. So I'm actually really excited to talk with Bryan, get his perspective on those things as well. Bryan, welcome. I'd love, if you wouldn't mind, for our listeners to give a little bit of an introduction about how you ended up being who you are and where you are in this solar industry today. I'd love to get just a little bit of a background on your journey.
Bryan Wehler (01:09):
Yeah, sure. Thanks, Dave. Appreciate you having me on the podcast. So yeah, I'm Bryan Wehler, I work for ARM Group. We're a environmental consulting and civil engineering firm based in Hershey, Pennsylvania. We have about 220 employees across 14 offices, and I've been with the company now for about 20 years. I guess my origins go back to the early days of growing up and my father was a geologist and he worked for an environmental consulting firm. So I was exposed to this world at a pretty young age and took an interest to geology and environmental science in particular and pursued that with my education after high school and got a degree in geology and environmental science.
Then I had the good fortune of coming to work for ARM Group right out of college and got involved in a number of projects at the time, very diverse types of environmental projects, but there was an engineering component to a number of those projects. It sparked my interest in engineering and made me realize that I could probably do more if I could combine the geology degree with an engineering degree. So I went back to school, picked up a second bachelor's in civil engineering, and since that time I've been able to integrate those educational experiences into my career, which really began working on solid waste projects. So landfill engineering was a lot of what I was doing initially when I joined ARM Group after going back to school and I was doing geotechnical engineering and solid waste engineering. That's really what introduced me to the renewable space.
So I was working on projects at landfill sites and we were getting involved in landfill gas energy projects. Some of those clients began to ask us, "What else can we do with these facilities? We have these gas energy projects, we have these interconnections. We're selling electricity, renewable energy, what else can we do?" So we started getting involved in wind energy projects and eventually solar projects. This is in the late 2000s. So that's really what allowed me and our company to cut our teeth in the renewable space. Then from there, we really focused hard on the renewable market as it began to mature. Since that time it's really taken off and I'm currently leading our renewable energy practice for our group.
Dave Anderson (04:25):
That's excellent. I thought I caught that you said you'd been with the business for 14 years?
Bryan Wehler (04:31):
No, it's 20 years.
Dave Anderson (04:32):
20 years. Okay. That's excellent. So 20 years you've been doing this, and more recently your focus has been shifted towards the renewables practices, so that's the wind and the solar. What's the typical size of a project that you're working on as part of the ARM Group?
Bryan Wehler (04:48):
Yes. We work on projects really of all sizes. I would say the smallest that we get involved with is maybe a 500 KW solar project, and we've worked on projects as large as 300 megawatts in the solar space. We don't do a lot of wind energy work now. The majority of our focus is on solar, but we still do work on some wind energy projects from time to time.
Dave Anderson (05:16):
What percentage of ARM Group's practice focuses on renewables specifically?
Bryan Wehler (05:23):
You mean in terms of the overall business?
Dave Anderson (05:27):
Right. Yeah, you'd mentioned 220 employees and you're obviously leading the environmental side of that, or rather, the renewables portion of the business. Is that becoming a significant portion of ARMs overall work?
Bryan Wehler (05:39):
It is, yeah. It's currently our fastest growing business unit in the company, and I would say it comprises 10 to 15% of our overall business, but that is growing rapidly.
Dave Anderson (05:57):
Yeah, if you wouldn't mind, I'd love if you could give us a sense on some of the maybe projects that you're particularly proud of or excited about that you guys have worked on as part of the ARM Group or projects that you've been a part of. Are there any that are notable or stick out to you?
Bryan Wehler (06:12):
Yeah, there's quite a few that we've worked on that are pretty interesting and ones that we're especially proud of. One is the Landfill Solar Project in Annapolis, Maryland, that was a 18 megawatt project on a closed landfill. We did all the civil and environmental design work for that project. As you may or may not know, with those types of projects, you get into a lot of unique challenges, especially technically in terms of protecting the integrity of the CAP system, making sure that you're not causing any damage to the CAP and that the methane gas emissions are not going to be a problem for you. Then working closely with the regulators to get those projects through the permitting process can also be challenging. So that's one project that comes to mind. I would say that's one thing about ARM Group that I think is somewhat different from some of our competitors is that we work on these more challenging sites all the time.
So those are the ones that we like to get involved with because they're not the cookie cutter projects where you may just have an open field. These require multidisciplinary teams. We get geotechnical engineers, environmental engineers, solid waste engineers, and we really need all that expertise in order to make those projects successful. Here in Pennsylvania where I'm located, there's also been a lot of historical mining activity. Pennsylvania was one of the largest coal producing states for many years, and maybe it still is, but as a result, there's a lot of projects being developed on abandoned mine lands and historically mine sites. We've worked on a number of those and they come with their own set of challenges, but it's very rewarding to turn those sites into clean energy production facilities because a lot of times those were blighted sites that were an environmental liability. To be part of converting those into an environmental asset is definitely very fulfilling and something that I like to be part of.
Dave Anderson (08:56):
Yeah. So a lot of what we focus on the Solar Podcast is the residential side of the business, and many of our listeners, that's what their focus is on. Obviously the majority of your career, at least as of late, has been more focused on the C&I or the Commercial and Industrial, the larger projects. But I'd love to get your perspective and take, so something that we've talked extensively about is the soft costs for solar in the United States are artificially inflating our costs relative to other markets like Europe, for example, like Australia for example, where you can get solar projects done in the case of Australia for as little as a third.