Wednesday, November 20, 2013

LLM Student Attends Special Institute on Renewable Electric Energy: Law, Development and Investment

Thanks to sponsorship from the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation (RMMLF), I was able to attend the Special Institute on Renewable Electric Energy in Las Vegas on November 7-8. The Special Institute brought together energy experts, investment specialists, lawyers, law students, and other professionals to examine legal, technological, and investment issues surrounding the development of renewable electrical energy sources.

Topics that were covered ranged from siting and permitting of renewable energy projects, transmission, purchase agreements for renewable power, interconnection and transmission agreements, financing, tax equity and many more. Amongst my highlights was K.K. DuVivier, professor at University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, who spoke about how natural resources are converted into electricity, pointing out that in 2011 renewables counted for 50% of newly installed capacity worldwide.

Professor DuVivier was followed by Robert Noun, formerly working at National Renewable Energy Laboratory and currently teaching at DU. Professor Noun took a closer look at resource impacts of renewable energy projects regarding water and land use. Lastly, the presentation of Mark Safty, practice group leader for Holland & Hart’s Energy and Infrastructure Group as well as adjunct professor at DU, made for the next day’s highlight. Professor Safty reviewed the most significant terms of a Renewable Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), pointing out that revenue generated from a PPA is the most important aspect to determine financing mechanisms for a project.

On Friday I was also kindly invited by Frances Hartogh of the RMMLF, who had organized the conference, to join her and K.K. DuVivier, Mark Safty, Robert Noun and Evelyn Lim (from Chadbourne & Parke LLP and also a speaker at the conference) for lunch. I greatly enjoyed this opportunity to talk to all of them in person and hear more about their thoughts and insights on the conference topics.

In the end, I left the conference with mixed feelings: While all experts agreed that renewable energy no doubt is – and has to be – the future of energy production, there remains a lot of uncertainty in the industry regarding the federal government’s energy policy, especially when it comes to tax benefits for renewable energy projects. Money is a key player in the development of renewable energy sources and financing of projects fluctuates alongside prices and availability of fossil fuels. For example, with the recent increase in the production of cheap natural gas (in Vegas, even the buses are powered by natural gas, see picture) raising the capital for renewable energy projects, which are oftentimes extremely expensive, has become more and more of a challenge. But projects like the Ivanpah Solar Thermal Power Project outside of Las Vegas (see picture) clearly show that, particularly in the West, projects are being developed despite financing difficulties and that the field of renewable energy is a booming industry, where cutting-edge technology is invented, built and put to work an a regular basis.

Andy Liniger, 
Master of Laws in Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy (LLM) Candidate,
May 2014

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