Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wind Energy Investments Pick Up Speed

Wall Street appears poised to embrace in a big way new wind energy projects.

The genesis of the renewed spirit in wind projects, which seemed to ebb away during the financial crisis, is a new federal program that offers significant grants associated with investing in renewable energy, according to The Wall Street Journal ("Wind Farms Set Wall Street Aflutter," Aug. 31, 2009).

Pursuant to the new program, investors in wind projects will receive a 30 percent cash rebate based on the building costs associated with projects. The program also reduces taxes by providing for accelerated depreciation, the Journal reported.

The program runs through the end of 2010 and is not constrained by any funding cap.

The graduate program offers a course called "Renewable Energy Project Finance," taught by John Herrick, one of the nation's leading experts on the subject.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Conversation With Susan T. Wildau, Expert in Environmental Mediation and Engagement

Susan T. Wildau is a pioneer in the field of environmental mediation aimed at multistakeholder dialogue. Earlier this week, Ann Vessels, director of the College of Law internship program, and I met with Ms. Wildau to find out more about what she does and the field in which she has become a leader.

Ms. Wildau is a partner in the Boulder, Colorado firm CDR Associates, where she leads the firm's Sustainable Development practice area. Nearly 30 years ago, Ms. Wildau and several colleagues established CDR Associates with the goal of helping clients reach their own solutions on difficult issues. One of the firm's first areas of focus involved environmental disputes.

Over the years, Ms. Wildau has been involved in many environmental and natural resource related projects. Perhaps the most interesting -- at least from the viewpoint of Ann and me -- is the work Ms. Wildau did on a large mining project in Peru. In the early years of this decade, Ms. Wildau led an international team of mediators who developed multistakeholder dialogue and consensus building among civil society, government, and a mining company. The effort involved a project called Minera Yanacocha. As part of this effort, Ms. Wildau traveled to Peru up to six time a year for several years.

Ms. Wildau described the challenges the mediation team faced as well as how the group attempted to address what up to that point had been contentious and, in some cases, violent differences among the respective parties. It was fascinating hearing her describe the kinds of issues that arose and how each was handled.

She has also mediated regulatory negotiations used as the basis for the National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants for the wood furniture industry. Moreover, she has worked on projects involving the Ombudsman Office of the International Finance Corporation, the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation, and the World Wildlife Fund among others.

Ann and I were duly impressed by the role that mediation can -- and in the case of Susan Wildau's practice -- does play in resolving seemingly implacable issues. Talking to Ms. Wildau makes one more fully appreciate the "on the ground" issues that confront the developers of large infrastructure projects. It is hardly a matter of making sure that all of the legal documents are in place since, in the words of Ms. Wildau, "the social license to operate -- that is the community's decision to 'permit' a company to operate -- is also imperative."

In early August, Ms. Wildau spoke to a new DU course, "Community Expectations in Natural Resource Development Projects," and explained the role of mediators in environmental and natural resource projects. And her work is hardly finished. Wherever natural resources are extracted there are often local and regional communities who have a major stake in how it is undertaken.

This field of expertise is becoming more important by the year, and Ms. Wildau is on the front lines of developing this new area of environmental and natural resources specialty. Colorado is fortunate to be the home of firms such as CDR Associates (even if most of their work takes them across the entire world). There is much to learn from leaders like Susan Wildau. This week's lunch will not be our last chat with her.

(For those interested in learning more about this fascinating speciality, click here to see CDR Associates' newsletter "Talking Points.")

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Abengoa Solar and Xcel Energy Announce Plans to Build First Solar Thermal Facility Integrated With A Coal-Fired Plant

Xcel Energy and Abengoa Solar have broken ground in Colorado on a demonstration parabolic trough concentrating power (CSP) plant at Xcel's Cameo coal-fired power plant near Grand Junction. The project will be the first to integrate a conventional electrical power plant with an industrial solar installation.

The plant, which is expected to be in operation by the end of the year, is the first of its kind based on the Innovative Clean Technology program approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for implementation by Xcel.

The project's objective is "to prove that the heat produced by a solar facility can increase the efficiency of a conventional power plant while also lowering carbon dioxide emissions," according to the two firms.

David Wilks, president of energy supply for Xcel, the largest power generator in Colorado and a national leader in integrating renewable energy into its generating portfolio, said, "If this demonstration project works, we may be able to implement this type of technological advance in other coal-fired power plants to help further reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Colorado and possibly other areas of our service territory."

Ken May, director of Abengoa Solar IST, said, "Proper use of the solar thermal energy produced at these facilities can improve plant efficiency while lowering carbon dioxide emissions. The successful integration of solar and coal technologies will encourage more widespread use throughout the utility sector."

Abengoa is a Spanish-owned company with its American headquarters in Lakewood, which is located near Denver.

This is yet another example of why Colorado is quickly becoming known as the center of "the new energy economy." We will be watching the progress of this demonstration project with considerable interest.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Latest Challenge for Weather Forecasters: Wind Farm-Related Air Turbulence

It is not as if the poor weatherperson doesn't have enough to worry about. It seems that almost anything can -- and often does -- happen with the weather, and the "anonymous weatherman" always gets the blame (is there anything like "weather forecasting malpractice"?).

And now yet another challenge for weather to account for turbulent wind patterns caused by wind farms.

You may think this is a joke, but it is not according to a recent Associated Press story. As reported by the Associated Press, "The massive spinning blades affixed to towers 200 feet high can appear on Doppler radar like a violent storm or even a tornado. The phenomenon has affected several National Weather Service radar sites in different parts of the country, even leading to a false tornado alert near Dodge City, Kansas."

The AP story quoted Dave Zaff, an operations and science officer with the National Weather Service, who said, "If you take a glance [at the radar] and then all of the sudden you see red, you might issue an incorrect warning as a result."

Oh boy. Yet another thing to worry about in terms of wind farms. Surely there must be some national association of weather forecasters who can take on this issue -- something along the lines of "Ban Wind Turbines; Promote Better Forecasting" might be an apt campaign slogan.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks?

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is in some respects the "holy grail" for countries that largely depend on coal-fired power for electricity generation but want to reduce carbon emissions. Under this approach, carbon is captured during the incineration process and then transported typically to an underground location where it can be stored.

Energy experts in the European Union have very high -- perhaps way too high -- hopes for CCS. There is also considerable interest in China and the U.S. since a successful CCS process would allow both countries to continue to burn vast amounts of coal without emitting more carbon into the atmosphere.

But what about the risks associated with CCS? Will they outweigh the benefits? A recently published paper in Issues in Legal Scholarship, "Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Identifying and Managing Risks," provides an interesting and thought-provoking consideration of the subject.

The article, written by Profs. Alexandra B. Klass and Elizabeth J. Wilson of the University of Minnesota, is organized in two parts. The first part assesses risks associated with CCS. These include capturing the carbon dioxide emissions, using pipelines to transport the gas, and then storing it permanently underground. The second part of the article considers how the risks associated with these steps could be managed and analyzes whether "CCS should be deployed or whether its use should be limited or rejected in favor of other solutions."

CCS is going to be one of many ideas evaluated in the context of a carbon constrained economy. This article helps put the overall subject in more context.

(Thanks to Diane Burkhardt, Faculty Services Librarian at the DU law library, for calling this to my attention.)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Europe and the United States: On the Same Planet or in Different Universes?

Sometimes it is hard not to wonder whether the European Union and the United States inhabit the same planet. I am wondering about that again in the wake of news that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to hold a hearing on the science of climate change.

According to a recent article in The Los Angeles Times ("U.S. Chamber of Commerce Seeks Trial on Global Warming," Aug. 25, 2009), the chamber contends that such an event would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century." William Kovacs, the chamber's spokesman for regulatory, environmental, and technology issues says, "It would be evolution vs. creationism. It would be the science of climate change on trial."

So where does the EU-U.S. observation come in? The European business groups would never take such position as has the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That is because EU consumers would effectively boycott and otherwise shame European business groups that took such positions.

But many business groups in the U.S., of course, looks at things differently. And the last thing the U.S. business community wants to be compared to is the European business community.

One might think that the U.S. Chamber might view the issue of addressing climate change as an enormous opportunity for introducing new services and products. But no. Their role is one of disputing the need for any sort of reasonable response.

The world is changing and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is doing everything it can to try to stop the change or obfuscate the need to plan for change. All of this sounds to me like a way the chamber can argue that it is saving American capitalism. Many would prefer they spend their time keeping an eye on Wall Street, a place that really does need some adult supervision.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meet Our Graduates: Theresa Corless, LLM Class of 2007, Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Forest Service

Theresa Corless graduated with her JD degree in May 2007 and her LLM in December 2007. Ms. Corless is a Presidential Managment Fellow who works for the U.S. Forest Service.

Check out her observations about the program and how it helped jump start her career here.