Saturday, September 19, 2009

General Electric Targets Solar and Wind for Business Growth

General Electric, one of the world's largest companies with a major energy portfolio, made two announcements earlier this week that underscore the firm's belief that there major opportunities to be had in the renewable energy sector.

On Monday GE Energy announced the acquisition of Norway-based ScanWind, which develops advanced drive train and control wind turbine technologies aimed at offshore development. GE Energy, which has a major portion of the on-shore wind turbine market, clearly believes that it needs to bolster its off-shore capability and this acquisition puts it in a better position to do so. ScanWind has particular expertise in turbines in the Atlantic Ocean off Norway.

As reported in the Financial Times ("GE Looks to Offshore Turbines for Growth," Sept. 14, 2009), "Most industry experts believe a huge expansion of offshore wind will be needed for the European Union to hit its target of devising 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020."

A day later, GE Energy announced that it has started building production lines at its Loveland, Colorado (about 30 miles north of Denver) plant to produce more solar panels. Word of this development was first noted in the Financial Times ("GE Plans to Ramp Up Solar Panel Production," Sept. 15, 2009). Jeff Immelt, the chief executive office of General Electric, said in that story that energy is "clearly one of the big industrial businesses filled with what I would call seismic change, whether it's clean energy or scarcity of resources."

Admittedly some politicians -- especially many of the "Blue Dog Democrat" variety in the U.S. -- are beginning to go wobbly (thank you Margaret Thatcher for a most useful description) on energy legislation. However, when one of the world's major companies aggressively pursues a certain market, people should accordingly take note.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Meet Our Graduates: Tonye Oki, LLM Class of 2006

Tonye Oki, a Nigerian lawyer with additional experience in the United Kingdom, earned his LLM degree from the graduate program in 2006.

Mr. Oki has served as an adjunct professor in the program, most recently teaching "Negotiating Natural Resource Agreements" in the spring of 2009 with his teaching "partner" Jim King.

I know Tonye very well. He was a student of mine and he's spoken over the years in several of my classes. He is a great person, and an inspirational figure to those of us in the graduate program. He is well liked by students and respected by his colleagues.

Click here to see Tonye Oki's thoughts about the program.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Colorado City Becomes First Fully Functioning "Smart Grid" City in the World

The city of Boulder, located about 30 miles from Denver, has become the world's first "smart grid" city.

Xcel Energy, the electricity provider for the city of Boulder, recently completed construction of the infrastructure and launched the remaining software to enable all SmartGridCity operational functions.

Among other things, Boulder's smart grid allows re-routing power around congested lines, identifying power outages, and switching power through entirely-automated substations. The smart grid infrastructure included more than 200 miles of fiber optic cable, 16,000 smart meters, and 4,600 small business and residential transformers.

In the last quarter of this year, retail customers will be able to mange home energy use through a web portal.

The smart grid concept is considered an integral part of America's new energy economy. Consequently, the fact that the first smart grid city is located in Colorado is yet another clear indication of this region's energy leadership role.

A series of web-based videos about the project can be viewed by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

LLM Graduate Leonardo Rodriguez Co-Authors Articles About Argentine Stability Agreements

Attorneys Leonardo Rodriguez (LLM graduate 2008) and Francisco Macias of the Buenos Aires, Argentina, law firm of Marval, O'Ferrell & Mairal recently have co-authored two articles about stability agreements as they relate to mining investment in Argentina.

The articles, "Stability Agreements in Flux: Argentine Courts Show Signs of Supporting Miners" (Sept. 8, 2009) and "A Step Closer to Stability" (Sept. 16, 2009) were published in the on-line edition of LatinLawyer, a prestigious journal focusing on legal developments in South America.

In the latter article, Mr. Rodriguez and Ms. Macias explain a landmark Argentine Supreme Court ruling ordering that a South African mining firm, Cerro Vanguardia, be repaid taxes collected by the Argentine government.

The attorneys wrote:
"The court ruled...that the 1998 equalization tax -- a 35 percent levy on shareholder dividends from company earnings not subject to income tax -- was in breach of the fiscal stability provisions of the country's mining investment law. This is a landmark decision for the protection of the incentive regime contained in that law, which we believe will support mining companies with stability regimes that are challenging taxes on mining exports enacted in 2007..."
Leonardo and I became good friends during his time in Denver, which included a position post-graduation with the Denver firm of Holland & Hart. He distinguished himself in the program, winning the Outstanding 2007-2008 Student of the Year award.

I also met Francisco during a recent trip to Argentina. He, Leonardo, and I have talked about the type of education and experience that will most benefit Latin American lawyers who study in Denver.

From my perspective, it is wonderful to see graduates contributing all over the world in many different spheres. Leonardo Rodriguez is one of those graduates. He has a long and successful career ahead.

Renewable Energy Represents "One of the Most Interesting Nexus" in Today's Energy World, MRLS Graduate Says

Danny Splettstosser (MRLS graduate 2007) says, "Renewable energy represents one of the most interesting nexus in terms of policy, regulation, technology, and business." And he ought to know since he is an associate project developer for enXco, a major renewable energy developer. enXco is an affiliate of EDF Energies Nouvelles, which is a member of the French-based EDF group.

In addition to being one of the biggest wind developers in the U.S. (enXco operates more than 1,900 of its own wind turbines and manages another 2,000 wind turbines), enXco is the largest operations and maintenance service provider in the U.S. As such, enXco is a major player in the growing field of American-based renewable energy generation. And that makes Mr. Splettstosser's observations particularly insightful.

Having joined enXco after graduating from the graduate program about 18 months ago, Mr. Splettstosser is now actively involved in the firm's solar business. In this role, he has projects spanning the entire country.

When we spoke last week he pointed out that in some regions of the country -- e.g., Arizona, Southern California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah -- solar may in many instances be preferable to wind. He noted that while solar may be more expensive than wind (although he noted that the price differential is rapidly decreasing), solar has its own advantages. Whereas wind is very "location dependent," solar can be installed in vast areas of the American southwest, he said. In addition, solar facilities are often smaller than wind projects and thus can more effectively be "plugged into" the current grid.

Irrespective of whether a project is wind or solar focused, however, he explained that "there is a great amount of legal and policy work involved. And it continues to grow rapidly."

Mr. Splettstosser identified two major (and continuing) barriers to more integration of renewables into the total U.S. generating portfolio:
  • Lack of adequate transmission, particularly in the southwest part of the U.S. The typical model now is that the fuel is moved -- in rail cars or through pipelines -- to where the loads are; with renewables, however, the power must be moved from the generating sites to load centers.
  • The capital intensive nature of wind and solar development. In most instances, it is more expensive to build wind and solar facilities than equivalent (from a power producing standpoint) fossil fuel facilities. On the other hand, wind and solar facilities will face effectively no increase in fuel costs while the fossil facilities are always faced with the risk of higher fuel prices. The key, he said, is "how to create a stable regulatory structure that will allow you to recover the capital investments over a period of time."
It goes without saying that the economy has suffered greatly over the last 12 to 18 months. However, Mr. Splettstosser is a great example of what can happen with the right combination of education, determination, and imagination. America's energy future is in the hands of people like Danny Splettstosser. Let's hope -- for the sake of all of us -- that he and his colleagues are wildly successful

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

European Union Must Take Action Now to Meet 2020 Goal of 20 Percent of Total Energy From Renewables

The European Union has committed to generating 20 percent of its total energy consumption by 2020 from renewable sources. The the EU has a long ways to go since today the percentage stands at 8.5 percent.

The Centre for European Reform, one of the premier think-tanks in Europe, has just published a policy brief that addresses the challenges facing the EU. In "How to Meet the EU's 2020 Renewables Target," climate and energy economist Stephan Tindale considers what the EU needs to do to meet the target.

Tindale identifies three key issues:
  • "Concentrate as much on biomass and renewable gas (biogas) as renewable electricity. A major increase in the amount of biogas generated from sewage, manure and food waste would be a cost-effective way to meet the target. Because it runs through existing grid infrastructure, biogas significantly reduces the cost of renewables development.
  • "Expand the infrastructure required to link renewable sources of energy to energy-users including the rapid expansion of electricity grids (both onshore and offshore). The EU should help to finance the construction of an offshore grid spanning the North Sea, linking Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and the U.K. Similarly, it would should support the building of a grid linking Southern Europe with North Africa, which would make it possible to import energy from African solar farms.
  • "Reduce subsidies to emissions-intensive forms of agriculture, such as cattle farming. Subsidies should be shifted to more sustainable cultivation and production of renewable gas. For example, farmers should be given financial incentives to turn agricultural waste and manure into biogas."
Last December, the EU agreed to a package of measures aimed at reducing carbon emissions and moving towards a low-carbon economy. Some environmental groups in Europe have criticized the package, arguing that a tougher set of measures should have been adopted. But all of this has to be put into some perspective -- no other nation or group of nations has taken anywhere near as much action on addressing climate change. In addition, there is probably a point beyond which the even wildly-green European Parliament will not go in the absence of evidence that some of the other major economies (e.g., China, India, the U.S.) are making progress.

The next big event for the EU is the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December. All European eyes are on what is happening in the other major economies. For now, Europe is largely on its own. Can it afford to maintain this position if no one else follows?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Environmental Law Clinic-LLM International Scholar Program Launched

The Environmental Law Clinic (ELC) at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law has extended its field of action. And it is an impressive extension to be sure.

For the past 15 years, the ELC has represented local, state, and national environmental community groups on domestic environmental issues. Beginning this fall (2009) the ELC will maintain on its docket a project of international importance.

Working closely with the LLM program in Natural Resources and Environmental Law, the ELC has created the "Environmental Law Clinic-LLM International Scholar" program to work on the international docket. Ms. Leandra Zanqueta (prospective May 2010 LLM graduate) has been selected as the inaugural scholar.

Working under the orientation and supervision of Prof. Michael Harris, Director of the ELC, Ms. Zanqueta, who is a native of Brazil, will research and write about developing legal strategies in the international sphere regarding the impacts of mega dam projects (those higher than 15 meters or more than 3 million cubic meters) in Latin America.

The construction of dams is a priority for many Latin American countries because these projects have the potential to provide the necessary energy, drinkable water, and infrastructure to support economic development. However, the implementation of some projects is resulting not only in enormous environmental impacts, but also serious human rights violations. These violations include the forced relocation of communities, and the failure to consult affected communities and allow their participation in decision-making processes. The ELC will work with the Mexico City-based Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) to coordinate the work on this issue.

Everyone in the LLM program wishes Ms. Zanqueta and Prof. Harris great success. Congratulations on this important new venture!