Saturday, June 20, 2009

Renewable Energy Adjunct Professor's Firm Selected to Provide Counsel on Alternative Energy Finance Transactions

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected the law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck -- where Adjunct Professor John Herrick has a climate change/renewable energy law practice -- to provide project transactional counsel under its federal loan guarantee program. Brownstein thus joins a select list of U.S. law firms that will represent the DOE in its loan guarantee program related to the development of new and innovative energy technologies.

Bruce James, managing partner at the firm, said:
“The Department of Energy’s selection speaks to Brownstein’s position as an experienced player in the new energy economy and our experience as project transaction counsel for developing energy technology concerns. We have been, and continue to be, at the forefront of providing innovative solutions for clean technology and renewable energy projects.”
As project transactional counsel, Brownstein, under the direction and supervision of DOE’s counsel, will advise DOE on every aspect of its loan guarantee program on assigned projects. The firm will be responsible for providing legal counsel in all stages of the process from reviewing applications and performing due diligence to negotiating project document and executing closings. Projects will include those related to renewable energy projects, advanced fossil energy technology, hydrogen fuel cell technology, advanced nuclear energy facilities, carbon capture and sequestration, and efficient electrical generation, transmission and distribution technologies.

Brownstein’s renewable energy practice is led by Mr. Herrick, who teaches "Renewable Energy Project Finance" in the DU law graduate program and is former chief counsel for the DOE’s Golden, Colo. office. Mr. Herrick's practice group includes key shareholders in the firm’s natural resources and corporate and business groups. The cross-disciplinary group combines decades of traditional energy sector experience with an understanding of the complex business, finance and regulatory environment facing renewable energy and clean technology projects.

DOE’s Loan Guarantee Program, authorized by Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, aims to facilitate early commercial use of new or significantly improved technologies in energy related projects. Loan guarantees issued by DOE will be backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.

European Union Leaders Call For Rich Countries to Help Finance Developing Countries' Climate Change Projects

The European Council, meeting yesterday in Brussels, called again for all countries except the least developed to contribute to the "financing of the fight against climate change in developing countries on the basis of a universal, comprehensive and specific contribution key."

The European Council, made up of the heads of state and government of the European Union's 27 member states, instructed the European Commission to prepare proposals for what such financing would look like in terms of the EU.

The Council's announcement was of no surprise -- the EU has been in the forefront of addressing climate change for a decade now. However, the Council's typically highly aspirational goals were seen once again when it referred to intensifying its bilateral discussions on climate change with several countries including the U.S.

Obviously Brussels and Washington are separated by thousands of miles of Atlantic water. But haven't the European leaders been following the pace of climate change-related legislative discussions in the U.S. Congress? Despite a large Democratic majority in the U.S. House, supporters of the Waxman-Markey energy bill, which includes a carbon cap-and-trade provision, have been pulling their hair out trying to round up the 218 votes necessary to get the bill approved by the House. And this is even factoring in a Democratic president who supports the legislation.

One wonders whether America will go empty handed yet again to the climate talks (set for Copenhagen in December). (And wouldn't this rather reduce Mr. Obama's rock-star image on the continent?) Of course, Mr. Obama could order the EPA to promulgate legislation to reduce carbon emissions but that approach would raise a chorus of hackles.

A mere suggestion: Could the EU outsource its environmental enforcement duties to the U.S. while the U.S. outsources policy-making to the EU? After all, we are in an age of globalization...aren't we?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Conversation With Tanuj "TJ" Deora, Project Manager for Horizon Wind Energy

Nearly everyone agrees that wind energy will play a growing and increasingly important role in our energy future. The reasons for that are many. But what does developing a wind project involve?

Never one shy about approaching an expert in an interesting energy field, I met today with Tanuj "TJ" Deora, a Denver-based project manager for Horizon Wind Energy. With a great amount of good cheer he responded to my question. But first, a bit of background on Horizon might be useful.

Horizon develops, constructs, owns, and operates wind farms throughout North America. Based in Houston, with over 20 offices across the United States, Horizon has developed more than 2,800 megawatts (MW) and operates over 2,000 MW of wind farms. In 2008 it ranked third in the U.S. in terms of installed wind capacity.

Typically, according to Mr. Deora, there are 14 steps involved in developing a wind project. His role is to manage the process from the very beginning to the point at which electricity generation begins.

Mr. Deora says that the sector -- that is the wind energy sector -- is past the "infant" stage and is moving to "adolescence" in the context of its development path. The "infancy" stage was in the 1970s and 1980s when utility-scale wind was first being assessed. In the 1990s and through the first decade of this century the issues are not so much whether it can work successfully, but instead focus on addressing some of the key tangential matters such as integration of wind-generated electricity onto the grid, transmission of electricity to load centers, and how best to mitigate environmental impacts related to wind projects.

He believes that wind power can (and will) play a major role in meeting future U.S. demand for electricity. He points to the conclusions of "20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply," a report which was published in July 2008 by the U.S. Department of Energy with contributions from (among others) the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (a mere hop, skip, and a jump from the DU campus...well more along the lines of 50 kilometers) and the American Wind Energy Association.

Ten years ago I doubt there were many individuals around doing what Mr. Deora does now. But 10 years from now...well I would hazard a guess that developing wind energy projects is going to be a very exciting field.

Following my 90 minute tutorial I raised one more question: would he come to DU to speak to our students this autumn. He kindly agreed to.

TJ Deora is, in a very real sense, one of the pioneers in this new and vast business of wind energy. He represents the type of professional -- smart, well-educated (in his case an engineering degree followed by an MBA), committed, ethusiastic, persceptive -- who are coming to Colorado to become a part of the new energy economy. Our students are sure to benefit when he joins us this fall.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Colorado: "The Hub of the New Energy Economy"

The state of Colorado is at the center of the so-called "new energy economy" according to a senior U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) official.

The combination of federal efforts -- being undertaken at the U.S. Department of Energy regional office in Colorado as well as at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) located near Denver -- and state efforts, including an aggressive renewable electricity standard, illustrate Colorado's key role in moving the country towards a new energy future, Jeff Baker, director of the Office of Laboratory Operations in the Golden field office of the DOE said earlier this week.

Mr. Baker was one of the two featured speakers at "Mapping a New Energy Strategy for the West," sponsored by the Denver law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. The other featured speaker was Robert Noun, director of external affairs at NREL and the lead adjunct professor for a "one of its kind" new course "Renewable Energy in the 21st Century: Policy, Law, Markets, Technology" that will be offered at DU in the spring 2010 semester.

According to Mr. Baker, there are four elements of the clean energy economy:

  • Clean energy (renewables)
  • Energy efficiency
  • Environmentally-friendly production methods
  • Conservation and pollution management

Among other eye-catching points made by Mr. Baker:

  • The clean energy economy is growing at 30 percent a year
  • Wind provided 40 percent of all new U.S. electricity capacity installed in 2008
  • In the last three years, venture capitalists have invested $13 billion in the new energy economy
  • The economic stimulus bill, enacted earlier this year, includes nearly $85 billion aimed at the new energy economy

Mr. Noun, a lawyer by training and considered by many to be the foremost expert on renewable energy and energy efficiency policy in the U.S., said one of the challenges NREL now faces is "getting to speed and scale quickly. This is a national challenge." He noted that President Barack Obama has committed to doubling the amount of renewable electricity in the next three years.

NREL's role in the new energy economy includes conducting basic research, fostering the renewable energy industry in the U.S., and commercializing the technology that is being developed in the laboratory. "We are focused on commercializing and deploying our research. We are trying to be more entrepreneurial," Mr. Noun said, noting the many public-private partnerships that NREL is currently undertaking.

Moreover, he pointed out that NREL will sponsor the "22nd NREL Industry Growth Forum," Nov. 3-5 in Denver, where key actors in the clean energy development, generation, and investment communities meet and exchange ideas. According to NREL, the conference "is the premiere clean energy investment forum not only because of the caliber of investors and entrepreneurial companies it attracts, but also due to its unique format and window on the energy future."

More than 250 of the state's leaders attended the "Mapping a New Energy Strategy" event -- representing federal, state and local governments, the finance industry, law firms, renewable energy developers and others -- a clear indication of Colorado's leadership role.

What does this mean in a larger perspective?

First, the Denver area and Colorado more generally are "the" places to be for those interested in pursuing new energy economy opportunities.

Second, the DU College of Law is reaching out to new energy economy firms and leaders in order to bring the best and brightest of this sector into our courses and programs. As part of this, the law school offers courses in "Renewable Energy Project Finance," taught by adjunct professor John Herrick, a lawyer with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and an expert in the topic, as well as the NREL-related course mentioned above. Students in these classes will learn from the premier leaders in this important new field.

Third, the opportunities -- as well as challenges -- in front of the U.S. and the world are enormous. But they also reflect the chance for individuals who are curious and persistent to get in on the very front end of this new wave.

Colorado has always been an energy state -- first it was coal, and then gas and oil, and today it is renewable energy. Put another way, tomorrow's energy future is being worked on today in Colorado.

Geoengineering: A Legitimate Approach to Addressing Climate Change?

From the "somewhat stranger than fiction" file: Should scientists begin undertaking measures to cool the planet?

Jamais Cascio, a senior fellow at the California-based Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, seems to think so as he explains in a piece in The Wall Street Journal ("It's Time to Cool the Planet," June 15, 2009).

Geoengineering, as Mr. Cascio explains, is aimed at "lowering the temperatures of the Earth itself." One concept involves increasing the amount of sunlight reflected by the Earth. Among the ways this could be done, according to Mr. Cascio, are: (1) inserting particles into the atmosphere that would reflect sunlight; and (2) increasing the amount and thickness of clouds.

He describes various societal and political issues that might arise from these efforts. And then he moves to the "more mundane questions of liability" (one wonders, "mundane to who?"). As he puts it:
If, for example, South Asia experiences an unusual drought during cyclone season after geoengineering begins, who gets blamed? Who gets sued? Would all 'odd' weather patterns be ascribed to the geoengineering effort? If so, would the issue of what would have happened absent geoengineering be considered relevant?"
While Mr. Cascio might be considered a "futurist" in some circles, one wonders whether he has ever heard of the American Trial Lawyers' Association (now known as the American Association for Justice). Talk about "manna from heaven"...The trial lawyers would be all over this like kittens on cap-nip.

Clearly climate change is a serious matter and Mr. Cascio has an interesting point of view. But coming up with large scale ways to cool the earth? That's likely to work about as well as when I try to get my cat Paco's attention when he's stalking a bird.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Challenge of Dairy Farming in Saudi Arabia: The Not So Easy Matter of Water Supplies

For those interested in the intersection of farming and natural resources will want to listen to "The Cost of Making Milk in the Desert," which was broadcast on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday (June 14, 2009).

This piece explains how much water it takes to sustain a dairy operation in Saudi Arabia, and the related -- and difficult -- resource issues.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The highly-respected Journal of Energy and Natural Resources Law is soliciting papers for publication.

The Journal, the publication of the Section on Energy, Environment, Natural Resources and Infrastructure Law of the International Bar Association (SEERIL-IBA), is published on a quarterly basis and is the leading refereed journal in the field of energy and natural resources. The Journal covers oil and gas law, mining law, water law and energy law. The Journal is highly recognized in the academic world for the quality of the papers that it publishes.

Of particular interest to the DU environmental and natural resources law community is the fact that the Journal is distributed among all the members of the IBA-SEERIL (more than 2,200 practitioners with expertise in the field) as well as subscribed to by universities and private entities, thus ensuring a highly visible "platform" in which to publish.  

Patricia Nunez, a member of the editorial board and a distinguished mining lawyer in Santiago, Chile, recently mentioned to me, "I am certain that the University of Denver's professors, as well as students, may be interested in submitting papers for publication. Especially, bearing in mind that Denver is a highly recognized center with expertise in the energy and natural resources field."

I enthusiastically encourage anyone interested in publishing in this important journal to contact Professor Nigel Bankes at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law.

Guidelines for authors are available by clicking Publications - Journal of Energy and Natural Resources Law Guidelines for Authors (JERL_Guidelines_for_Authors.pdf.

Monday, June 15, 2009

U.S. House Republicans Unveil Their Own Energy Bill

Not to be outdone by U.S. House Democrats, who have -- more or less -- rallied around the Waxman-Markey energy bill, U.S. House Republicans have unveiled their own version of an energy bill, and it could not look more different from the Waxman-Markey proposal.

The American Energy Act, as proposed by Congressman Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, emphasizes the development of nuclear power. The Pence proposal envisions "a national goal of licensing 100 new nuclear reactors over the next 20 years." The key to achieving this goal, in Mr. Pence's mind, is "by streamlining a burdensome regulatory process and ensuring the recycling and safe storage of spent nuclear fuel."

The proposal also calls for increasing domestic supply of oil and gas by "lifting restrictions on the Arctic Coastal Plain, the Outer Continental Shelf, and oil shale in the Mountain West. Revenues generated through domestic exploration will support innovation in renewable and alternative energy sources, like wind and solar technologies," he said.

While the Waxman-Markey measure calls for a national cap-and-trade system on greenhouse gas emissions the Pence proposal is silent on this idea.

To watch a video of Mr. Pence announcing the proposal, click here.

The chances of the Pence measure as proposed passing? None. But it might attract the attention of some Democratic congressman -- particularly from rust-belt and farming districts -- who are having second thoughts about Waxman-Markey.

Hiring News: MRLS Graduate Hired by U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Rayme Ortega (formerly Rayme Maldonado) (spring 2008 MRLS graduate) has been hired by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Customs and Border Protection as an Agriculture Specialist.

Her duty station is in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she works primarily with imports. Ms. Ortega applies multiple laws and policies to identify harmful pests, plants, animal and/or biological threats entering into both the airport and sea port.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Aviation Industry Commits to "Carbon-Neutral" Growth by 2020

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced plans to achieve "carbon-neutral" growth by 2020.

Giovanni Bisignani, IATA's Director General and CEO, said, “Two years ago we set a vision to achieve carbon-neutral growth on the way to a carbon-free future. Today we have taken a major step forward by committing to a global cap on our emissions in 2020. After this date, aviation’s emissions will not grow even as demand increases. Airlines are the first global industry to make such a bold commitment.”

The IATA has defined three goals for air transport:
  1. Fuel efficiency improvement of 1.5% average from 2009 to 2020;
  2. From 2020, carbon-neutral growth; and
  3. Absolute reductions in carbon emissions of 50% by 2050.
And I didn't think the airline industry wanted any part of reducing greenhouse emissions -- by regulation or otherwise.

At the rate we are going, the Colorado Rapids American professional soccer team will soon announce that it will be joining the English Premier League by 2050 too.