Energy Finance Report

Jeffrey Karp

Jeffrey M. Karp is a partner in Sullivan & Worcester's Washington, D.C. office, where he heads the firm’s Environment & Natural Resources Group. The Group includes the following fields of practice: environmental compliance & litigation; climate-related business & technology; renewable energy & energy efficiency; water resources & conservation; pesticides & bioagra; and energy, infrastructure & finance. The Group brings together practitioners from across the firm’s legal disciplines in its offices in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., London and Tel Aviv.

Mr. Karp’s practice focuses on assisting clients in resolving complex regulatory matters and high-stakes business disputes, and engaging in cutting-edge technology transactions. He advises clients on the full range of environmental regulatory compliance issues under federal and state laws, and provides defense in government investigations and enforcement actions. He also represents clients in litigating and resolving disputes under a variety of federal and state laws, and claims arising from transactional agreements.

Mr. Karp advises companies seeking to participate in water, renewable energy, and clean technology transactions and projects worldwide, with an emphasis on assisting Israeli companies seeking to commercialize their products, services, and technologies. Mr. Karp also has substantial experience assisting clients in addressing legal, contractual, and regulatory issues arising during the development of large-scale infrastructure projects, including obtaining government authorizations and negotiating project agreements.

Before entering private practice in 1990, Mr. Karp served as an environmental prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice where he litigated and supervised enforcement cases involving a variety of environmental laws.

Email: [email protected]

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Recent Posts

The New Administration’s Efforts to Deconstruct the Obama Climate Initiatives

Posted by Jeffrey Karp on 8/11/17 2:22 PM

President Trump is spearheading a government-wide roll back of Obama Era climate initiatives. The president and his EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, have delivered a one-two punch.  They both have denied the impact of human activity on climate change, while seeking to resurrect the moribund fossil fuel sector.  In March 2017, the President issued a wide-ranging “Energy Independence” Executive Order requiring review and reconsideration of any rule that might burden development of domestic energy sources, particularly oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy. After much drama, in June 2017, President Trump fulfilled a campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord (“Accord”).  Moreover, in seeking to implement the new Administration’s energy independence strategy, government departments and agencies are pursuing delay or repeal of regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gas (“GHG’) emissions, most notably EPA’s targeting for elimination the Clean Power Plan rule (“CPP”).

Under the Accord, the United States had pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, and to contribute up to $3 billion in aid to an international fund that helps the world’s poorest nations mitigate the effects of climate change.  It was expected that one of the President’s first acts following the inauguration would be to withdraw the country from the Accord.  On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump had not minced words about his view of the Accord, and his belief that climate change was a hoax.  Nonetheless, the President delayed his decision, while considering the views of many who advocated that the United States remain in the Accord, including several of his advisors, former Vice President Gore, the leaders of the G-7 nations, state governors and corporate executives.  President Trump, however, announced on June 2, 2017 the country’s withdrawal from the Accord, declaring the overarching need to protect United States workers and businesses from intrusive environmental restrictions, and negative impacts on economic growth.  In response to the President’s decision, a coalition of states, companies, and institutions have pledged to fulfill the United State’s emissions reduction commitment.

The withdrawal from the Accord appears unlikely to affect ongoing domestic efforts to reduce GHG emissions.  Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted renewable portfolio standards (RPS) to increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable energy sources.  Since the beginning of 2016, seven states have even increased their commitments for additional wind and solar-generated power. 

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Furthermore, according to an EPA report, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2015 (April 15, 2017), GHG emissions have decreased in all major economic sectors since 2005.

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Between 2005 and 2015, GHG emissions decreased by roughly 20% in the electricity sector, 10% in the transportation sector, 4% in the industry sector, and 0.7% in the agriculture sector.

In addition to negating the impact of global warming, the Trump administration seeks to resuscitate the fossil fuel sector by removing regulatory impediments to growth.  As noted, on March 28, 2017, President Trump issued an EO that instructed EPA to reconsider the CPP and “as soon as practicable, suspend, revise or rescind” the rule.  Promulgated in 2015 under the Clean Air Act, the CPP is expected to facilitate a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from the utility power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.  However, the rule has been tied up in litigation.  Shortly after promulgation, the Supreme Court stayed the CPP’s implementation.  A ruling on the CPP’s validity is awaited from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”)  following an en banc hearing in September 2016.  In the meantime, on April 4, 2017, EPA issued a notice of intent to review the CPP, while seeking to delay the D.C. Circuit’s impending decision on the rule’s validity.  On April 28, 2017, the court denied the EPA’s request to indefinitely delay the litigation while the Agency reconsiders the need for the CPP.  Instead, the D.C. Circuit agreed to hold the litigation in abeyance for 60 days, and ordered the parties to submit briefs addressing whether the court should continue to delay its decision or dismiss the litigation and remand the rule to the EPA.  After reviewing the parties’ briefs, on August 8, 2017, the court ordered that the cases remain in abeyance for an additional 60 days, and that EPA submit status reports in 30-day intervals. 

More recently, EPA attempted unsuccessfully to secure a lengthy delay in implementing another Obama Era emissions reduction regulation.  That rule requires that oil and gas companies fix methane leaks and upgrade equipment at extraction sites.  Siding with the NGOs, who challenged EPA’s announced two year delay, the D.C. Circuit ruled that EPA lacked authority under the Clean Air Act to stay the regulation while the Agency reconsiders it.  On August 10, 2017, the D.C. Circuit rejected industry groups and states’ request to reconsider the ruling.

Moreover, the President’s Energy Independence EO lifts the moratorium on leasing federal land for coal mining, and instructs the Department of Interior (“DOI”) to consider rescinding the 2015 regulation of hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands.  In June 2016, a Wyoming federal judge struck down the rule, which subsequently was appealed to the Tenth Circuit.  DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) has requested the Tenth Circuit to stay the litigation while it reviews the need for the regulation.  On July 25, 2017, BLM published a proposal in the Federal Register to rescind the 2015 regulation, asserting that it  needlessly burdens industry with unjustified compliance costs.  The Tenth Circuit has yet to rule on BLM’s stay request.

To further assist the domestic energy sector, President Trump’s Energy Independence EO also seeks to ease permitting of fossil fuel energy projects.  In particular, the EO rescinds an Obama Era directive that federal agencies performing National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) project reviews must consider GHG and climate change impacts.  Shortly after taking office, President Trump approved the permits for the TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline.  In response, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Native American tribes challenged issuance of the final permit to complete construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  On June 14, 2017, the court ruled that aspects of the Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) environmental assessment were inadequate, and ordered the Corps to conduct further  review.  But, the court refused to grant the plaintiffs’ requested injunctive relief to halt oil pumping operations pending the Corps performance of further environmental review, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Despite President Trump’s efforts to provide a “leg up” to the fossil fuel sector, it seems doubtful that the decline in coal-fired power generation will be reversed for several reasons. First, coal is not competitive with lower-priced and widely-available natural gas.  Second, the cost of developing renewable energy resources continues to drop.  Third, state RPS programs and corporate commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue to drive the growth of the renewables market.  Fourth, carbon emissions from power plants have fallen by 5% during each of the last two years, which is largely due to the switch by the utility sector, coal’s largest customer, to natural gas and renewables.  Currently, coal’s market share is in the low 30% range, and is unlikely to increase despite the new administration’s efforts to revitalize the industry.

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Furthermore, withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord is unlikely to have short-term impacts in the United States.  Carbon dioxide emissions from United States’ energy sources are expected to hit a 25-year low in 2017, and to continue to decrease.  Thus, it appears that the train already has left the station regarding  the overriding support by many corporations and states for the increased development of renewable energy resources, and the ongoing conservation and sustainability measures to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In light of the foregoing developments, it seems that market forces, not President Trump’s EO or government agencies’ efforts, will dictate the fate of the fossil fuel industry.

Jeffrey Karp is a partner and Leigh Ratino is a law clerk with Boston-based law firm Sullivan & Worcester LLP.

Topics: clean power plan, Climate change, Trump Administration, Energy Independence Executive Order, Paris Climate Accord

The New Administration’s Deregulatory Agenda and its Impact on Environmental & Energy Policy

Posted by Jeffrey Karp on 7/28/17 8:24 AM

As seen in the first six months of President Trump’s Administration, the country is on a rollercoaster ride.  There is much uncertainty regarding the implementation of new policies and the status of existing programs throughout the government.  Nowhere is this sentiment more evident than in the environmental and energy arenas.  President Trump is quickly trying to undo the Obama Administration’s programs through executive orders seeking to roll back regulations; the appointment of faithful supporters of deregulatory agenda to key positions; significant budget cuts that substantially reduce agencies’ head counts and defund targeted programs; and the helping hand of a Republican-controlled Congress.

However, achieving this desired goal is easier said than done.  President Trump’s objectives may be tempered by legal, procedural and resource constraints, bureaucratic resistance combined with delays in filling key agency decisions, and higher priority domestic agenda items and world events.  This article will examine what already has occurred and what may be in store on significant issues involving energy and the environment.  It also will highlight aspects of the Trump Administration’s deregulatory efforts and the proposed budgetary impacts.

Out of the gate, the new administration has pursued an aggressive deregulatory agenda. President Trump’s operative goal is to “deconstruct the administrative state.”  His administration is building on campaign rhetoric to “roll back” “economy-choking regulations,” and implementing his campaign promise to “Drain the Swamp” by reining in and shrinking the federal bureaucracy.  For example, in January 2017, President Trump issued the “2-for-1” Executive Order (EO) on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, which specifies that agencies must repeal two existing regulations for every new significant regulatory action.  The EO further requires cost balancing between new and repealed regulations and a net cost of zero for any new regulations.  In response, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and others, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), are challenging the validity of the EO in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing that the executive order is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law.”  In April 2017, the Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the President’s behalf, and the NGOs moved for summary judgment in May.  Attorneys General from 14 states filed a brief in support of the EO.  The case is in limbo, as the court has not yet ruled on the parties’ motions.

In February 2017, President Trump issued another EO, on Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda, which requires designation of regulatory reform officers and task forces in all agencies and departments.  Each task force must identify “all regulations that are unnecessary, burdensome and harmful to the economy.”  In addition to internal deliberations, the task forces have asked stakeholders to help identify troublesome regulations.  For example, the Commerce Department sought public comment on government regulations interfering with domestic manufacturing.  Of the 168 comments submitted, 79 called out the EPA, the majority of which cited the Clean Air Act (CAA) and Clean Water Act (CWA).

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President Trump is particularly focused on curtailing EPA programs from the Obama Administration’s regulatory agenda.  For example, the EO on Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda requires EPA to review, and either rescind or revise, the Clean Water Rule promulgated by the Obama Administration in 2015 under the CWA.  The CWA regulates discharge of pollutants to “navigable waters,” defined as waters of the United States (WOTUS).  The 2015 WOTUS Rule was issued by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) after a series of court decisions failed to adequately clarify the EPA’s jurisdictional scope.  The 2015 WOTUS Rule created quite a controversy because it applies to streams serving as tributaries to navigable waters, as well as wetlands adjacent to traditional navigable waters or interstate waters.  For the rule to apply, the wetlands and tributaries must be “relatively permanent.”  Under prior court decisions, this means such water bodies could be “intermittent.”  The Sixth Circuit stayed the 2015 WOTUS Rule soon after its promulgation.  Therefore, it was never implemented or enforced.  On January 13, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to resolve the jurisdictional dispute over whether a district court or a court of appeals should decide the rule’s validity.

On March 6, 2017, EPA’s “Notice of Intent to Review and Rescind or Revise the Clean Water Rule” was published in the Federal Register.  In Senate testimony delivered on June 27, 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stated that the agencies intend to revoke the 2015 WOTUS Rule, contending that the rule has created substantial uncertainty for farmers, ranchers, and landowners because they cannot tell whether their streams or dry creeks are “relatively permanent.”  Pruitt further stated that the rule inhibits development because landowners face substantial civil penalties if they incorrectly assess the rule’s coverage and the property is determined to be subject to federal jurisdiction.  

Revising or revoking rules is not a perfunctory or simple process. The agency that promulgated the rule must follow the same Administrative Procedure Act (APA) notice and comment procedures to rescind or change it.  Thus, an agency cannot simply revoke a rule and subsequently replace it to satisfy the policies of a new administration.  Rather, an agency first must create an Administrative Record (AR) that supports revoking an existing rule, and then the agency must conduct a separate rulemaking proceeding to promulgate a new revised rule.  Ultimately, the AR must justify a different outcome than the record upon which the existing rule was issued.  This same process must be followed for each rule that an agency desires to abolish or revise.

On June 27, 2017, EPA and the Corps announced a plan to replace the 2015 WOTUS Rule in two steps: 1) repeal the stayed Obama-era rule, and 2) commence a second rulemaking to replace it.  However, on July 12, 2017, a House subcommittee approved an energy and water spending bill that would allow EPA and the Corps to withdraw the 2015 WOTUS Rule “without regard to any provision of statute or regulation that establishes a requirement for such withdrawal.”  Essentially, if the bill is passed, the agencies could bypass the APA procedures, including the public notice and comment period, and repeal the 2015 WOTUS Rule.  The House is expected to vote on the bill in the next few weeks.  The Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of the energy and water bill does not include language allowing the Trump Administration to bypass APA procedures.  Thus, a reconciliation of the bills likely will be necessary.

The Administration’s effort to eradicate Obama Era environmental regulations is further complicated because many rules presently are tied up in court proceedings awaiting oral argument or court rulings.  The EPA sought to stay challenges to such rules while the new administration reconsiders their scope and breadth.  In several cases in which oral arguments have not been heard yet, the requested relief was granted.  However, the agency’s strategy was foiled in the case challenging the Clean Power Plan, the most contentious of the Obama Era rules.  In that case, an en banc ruling is pending in the D.C. Circuit.  On April 28, 2017, rather than grant EPA’s request for an indefinite stay, the court agreed only to hold the litigation in abeyance for 60 days, while ordering the parties to file briefs addressing whether the case should remain on hold, or whether the court should close it and remand the rule to EPA for disposition.  On May 15, 2017, both parties submitted their briefs.  The motions are pending.

President Trump also is seeking to use the budget process to pursue his deregulatory goals.  The Administration’s 2018 proposed budget, sent to Congress on May 23, 2017, would reduce EPA’s funding by nearly one-third, eliminate thousands of jobs, and scrap dozens of existing programs.  The budget proposal would increase funding in a select few areas — for water and air rulemaking, and the TSCA-Chemical risk review and reduction program; however, it is expected that much of the additional TSCA funding would be offset by a “pay to play” scheme under which the companies requesting such reviews would be required to pay for them.  On the other hand, government wide programs that address climate change and global warming would be obliterated.  The Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, which assesses the health risk of toxic chemicals, is specifically targeted for termination.  The Science Advisory Board is recommended for an 85% cut, and EPA’s categorical grants to states to operate and enforce delegated programs are slated for a 45% reduction.  The Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes initiatives would be eliminated, as would programs supporting energy efficiency and R&D, and loan guarantees for clean energy technologies.  Nevertheless, Congress has the final say over President Trump’s budget proposals, and it remains to be seen whether there is sufficient support for his substantial proposed budget cuts.

We anticipate a steady stream of lawsuits will be filed by NGOs and, perhaps, some activist states challenging the Trump Administration’s deregulatory actions.  We also expect an uptick in “citizens suits” seeking to enforce environmental laws and regulations due to EPA’s diminished role as the “cop on the beat.”  Further, the impact of President Trump’s budget proposal largely will depend on the willingness of the Republican majority in Congress to eliminate or reduce funding for programs with traditional bi-partisan support.

Jeffrey Karp is a partner and Leigh Ratino is a law clerk with Boston-based law firm Sullivan & Worcester LLP.

Topics: Energy Policy, Environmental Policy, Trump Administration, Deregulatory Agenda, Executive Orders

Renewables Can Play a Big Role in Puerto Rico's Fresh Start

Posted by Jeffrey Karp on 6/27/17 11:23 AM

This article originally appeared on Recharge.

Just two years ago, the future seemed promising for renewable energy development in Puerto Rico. Much of the groundwork was established, numerous developers had entered into Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with the state-owned utility, PREPA, and discussions were ongoing with funding sources.

However, decades of fiscal irresponsibility and bad deals finally caught up with Puerto Rico, leading to a terrible debt crisis. The government defaulted on bonds, sales taxes escalated to 11% (higher than any mainland state), and businesses began fleeing the island.

The generous incentives that initially had attracted development dried up. For the last couple of years, energy investment has been at a virtual standstill, with the exception of Oriana Energy’s solar plant that commenced operations in May 2017.

Despite these setbacks, and with the Commonwealth’s [government's] bankruptcy filing in May 2017, the Puerto Rican government now has a second chance to regain its financial footing, and the development of renewable energy may play an integral part in accomplishing such a task.

In 2010, the Commonwealth enacted Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS) that required 12% of the island’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2015 and 20% by 2035. Following the enactment of the REPS, utility PREPA entered into dozens of PPAs with renewable energy developers agreeing to purchase the power to be generated. By the end of 2015, Puerto Rico had 318MW of renewables in place, according to latest available data from the International Renewable Energy Agency.

However, as Puerto Rico became mired in its debt crisis, developers were unable to secure financing as investors grew fearful of funding long-term energy deals with PREPA. Adding to the uncertainty, due to PREPA’s financial woes, the utility serially renegotiated the terms of developers’ PPAs, which only served to make investors more jittery about financing the underlying renewable energy projects. Eventually, most of the agreements expired before the power plants could be financed or built.

Despite its financial travails, Puerto Rico’s commitment to renewable energy has not waned. In June 2016, Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). The legislation, intended to provide Puerto Rico with a pathway out of its debt crisis and establish a baseline for fiscal responsibility, also established the framework within which investment may occur. In providing a blueprint for interested investors, PROMESA also reaffirmed Puerto Rico’s commitment to renewable energy.

Recognizing that PREPA was incapable of shouldering the burden of energy development entirely on its own, PROMESA emphasized the need for public-private partnerships that shifted the initial funding burden to private investors. In April 2017, a P3 Summit was held to encourage developers and investors to collaborate with the Commonwealth on a wide variety of infrastructure projects, including energy, water, waste management, and transportation. The presentation on the energy sector reaffirmed Puerto Rico’s commitment to achieving the REPS of 20% renewable energy by 2035.

In setting the stage for infrastructure investment, PROMESA created an Oversight Board, which has authority over revitalization and infrastructure development. Importantly, the Oversight Board may “fast-track” projects deemed “critical,” such as projects that reduce the Commonwealth’s reliance on oil and diversify its energy sources. Moreover, the Oversight Board gives priority to privately-funded projects.

Following PREPA’s recent settlement with its bondholders, we understand the utility is ready to reengage with developers to amend PPAs that have been in limbo for several years. Many of these developers already have performed much of the engineering for these renewable energy projects. Once PREPA amends the extant PPAs, the underlying projects would qualify as “existing projects,” which would enable the Oversight Board to prioritize them.

In light of these recent fiscal and regulatory developments, investors again are inquiring about “shovel ready” renewable energy projects that require funding. Investors also may have gained a level of comfort having seen Oriana Energy successfully reengage in Puerto Rico. Since May 2017, the company is operating the largest solar plant in the Caribbean at 58MW, the power from which PREPA is purchasing pursuant to a renegotiated PPA.

Puerto Rico appears primed for renewed interest by energy investors. For several years, investors have been unwilling to accept the risks inherent in financing long-term energy projects in which PREPA is the counterparty. More recently, these concerns have shown signs of abating as PREPA has successfully engaged with its bondholders, and the Oversight Board created by the PROMESA legislation appears to have imposed an acceptable level of fiscal discipline on the Commonwealth.

With solar energy on the cusp of coming to Puerto Rico, the question is which financiers will enter the market soon enough to bathe in the sunlight.

Jeffrey Karp is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Sullivan & Worcester LLP and leader of the firm’s Environment, Energy & Natural Resources practice group. Zachary Altman, an associate, and Paul Tetenbaum, an intern at the firm, were co-authors of this article.

Topics: Energy Finance, Renewable Energy, Energy Investment, Puerto Rico, Power Purchase Agreements, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards

Opportunities Abound in the U.S. Offshore Wind Market

Posted by Jeffrey Karp on 5/30/17 12:52 PM

Offshore wind projects have taken root in America. The country’s first operating offshore wind farm, in Block Island, Rhode Island, began contributing energy to the power grid in December 2016. Now, more than 23 offshore wind projects — collectively expected to produce 16,000 MW of power — reportedly are being planned. Thus, opportunities abound for developers, contractors, and investors in the U.S. offshore wind market.

The recent spike in offshore wind activity has been fueled largely by a surge of political interest. Some critics have decried President Trump’s apparent lack of commitment to renewable energy, but the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has proved to be a willing partner in offshore wind energy development. In March 2017, DOI leased 122,000 acres off the coast of North Carolina to Avangrid, a subsidiary of Iberdrola, a Spanish company. Recently, DOI also finalized a lease with a Norwegian company, Statoil, for Long Island, New York waters. DOI evidently sees a future for U.S. offshore wind. According to a spokesperson, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management currently is receiving annual rent payments of over $4 million for offshore wind project leases.

State activities also have primed the pump for offshore wind development. In August 2016, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a law requiring utilities to procure 1,600 MW of electricity from offshore wind facilities by 2026. In May 2017, the Commonwealth’s Department of Energy Resources issued a request for proposals to develop up to 800 MW of offshore wind. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would commit to installing 2,400 MW of offshore wind by 2030, furthering his goal that renewable energy resources would supply 50% of New York’s power. To that end, in January 2017, Governor Cuomo approved Deepwater Wind’s 90 MW, 15 turbine South Fork Wind Farm project, which is expected to power 50,000 Long Island homes.

Moreover, the Maryland Public Service Commission recently awarded two developers, U.S. Wind and Skipjack Offshore Energy, contracts to build offshore wind farms totaling 368 MW. The projects are expected to create 9,700 new direct and indirect jobs.

With each completed project the supply chain grows stronger and developers become more efficient, making each successive project more cost-effective. For example, the estimated total cost of the South Fork project already has decreased 25% since Deepwater Wind’s first projections, and the energy generated is expected to cost 30% less per unit than at Block Island. Furthermore, the Department of Energy predicts that the cost of offshore wind energy will fall 43% by 2030. As this trend continues, there will be greater incentives to promote offshore wind as a clean energy resource.

Also, each successful project increases investor confidence. Deepwater Wind, developing its second offshore wind project, is owned by D.E. Shaw, a hedge fund and private equity firm managing over $40 billion in assets. Moreover, both Citigroup and HSBC have expressed interest in financing future offshore wind projects.

The U.S. offshore wind market is growing rapidly and approaching maturity. State and federal government actions appear to support a long-term horizon for offshore wind development. With every completed project, production and financing costs will continue to drop, the market will grow, and new jobs will emerge. The question now is whether the players in the renewable energy market — developers, investors, contractors, and vendors — are well-positioned to reap the rewards of this burgeoning industry.

Jeffrey Karp is a partner, Zachary Altman is an associate, and Leigh Ratino is a law clerk with Boston-based law firm Sullivan & Worcester LLP.

Topics: Energy Finance, Renewable Energy, Energy Investment, Energy Project Finance, Offshore Wind, Wind Energy, Energy Project

New Jersey's Proposed Renewable Portfolio Standard- Ambitious, but Uncertain

Posted by Jeffrey Karp on 4/20/16 11:28 AM

Co-authors Emma Spath and Morgan M. Gerard

New Jersey is poised to become a national leader in renewable energy by virtue of pending legislation that would substantially decrease the Garden State’s greenhouse-gas emissions through an ambitious Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS). An RPS is a regulatory mandate that requires utility companies to obtain a certain percentage of the energy they sell from renewable sources such as wind and solar, or purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) from qualifying energy sources. Recently passed by the State Senate, a new bill would require utilities to source 80 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2050.  If the General Assembly passes the bill and it survives the pen of Governor Christie, utilities must procure 11 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2017, with an increase every five years of approximately 10 percent until the 80 percent threshold is reached in 2050.

Although New Jersey passed its original RPS mandate in 1999, and has since updated its program to reach 20 percent by 2020-21 (including a solar energy “carve out” requirement of nearly 4 percent), the ambitious new bill faces an uncertain outcome. First, although the bill already has passed one legislative chamber, the Senate vote was strictly divided along party lines.  Second, the General Assembly, which is the next destination for S1707, delayed voting on a similar Senate bill in December 2015.  However, this General Assembly, like the Senate, has a Democratic majority; thus, it seems likely that the bill would pass.  Finally, the bill faces a veto-threat by Governor Christie, which could be overcome by a two-thirds majority in both houses.  In this scenario, a lack of bi-partisan support could doom the legislation due to a failure to obtain the requisite super-majority vote to overturn a veto. 

The bill also may be perceived as political by some or a “hot potato.” In addition to an increased RPS mandate, the legislation would allow the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to establish an “emissions portfolio standard applicable to all electric power suppliers and basic generation service providers, upon a finding that [t]he standard is necessary as part of a plan to enable the State to meet federal Clean Air Act or State ambient air quality standards.”  The provision may reflect the State Senate’s desire to assure New Jersey’s compliance with President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation presently under court review that seeks to limit greenhouse gas emissions under authority of the Clean Air Act.  In an omnibus litigation pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, twenty-seven states, including Governor Christie’s administration, seek to block the Plan’s implementation.  Recently, the Supreme Court stayed the regulation and suspended any deadlines for state compliance until resolution of the litigation.

Another possible objection to the N.J. bill—based on the reaction to a similarly aggressive RPS in California—may be its potential significant implications for the power grid. A review of a study concerning the potential impact of California’s plan to increase renewables to 50 percent by 2030 provides insight into the challenges that such measures may pose. That study found that an aggressive RPS could result in over-generation of renewable energy. The study showed that once California reaches a 50 percent RPS, excess power would be generated for 23% of annual hours.  Such an occurrence could result in grid forecast uncertainty, which is very costly for utilities.  Thus, New Jersey lawmakers instructed the BPU to concomitantly evaluate how to ameliorate solar energy volatility. It may behoove the BPU to also look at longer-term grid strategies to mitigate the substantial increase in renewable energy.  Such viable mitigative methods may include requiring steps such as energy storage, smart inverters with future solar photo-voltaic installations, or encouraging a diverse renewable energy portfolio.  While each of these measures may come with its own political baggage, the consideration of such grid solutions may be the palliative that enables New Jersey to substantially increase its RPS.

Topics: Energy Storage, Solar Energy, Renewable Energy, clean power plan, Wind Energy, renewable portfolio standard, Clean Air Act, New Jersey, Grid Security

U.S. EPA Earns Early Victory in Opponents' Challenge to Clean Power Plan

Posted by Jeffrey Karp on 1/22/16 5:47 PM

Co-authors Van Hilderbrand and Morgan M. Gerard

On January 21, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) won an initial victory as the D.C. Circuit refused to grant opponents a stay of the Clean Power Plan (CPP or Rule).

Clean_Power_Plan_Legal_Challenge.jpgThe Rule, promulgated pursuant to section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA), limits carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel fired electric generating plants (generating units).  The CPP’s goal is to cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, and each state is provided an emissions reduction target. Qualifying state emissions reductions under the Rule generally prompt the retirement of coal plants and the greater adoption of natural gas and renewable resources.  States must submit their implementation plans (SIP) in 2016 demonstrating that they will achieve the requisite emissions reduction by 2022, or request a two-year extension. However, if a state fails to submit an adequate implementation plan by the 2016 due date or request an extension for plan development until 2018, U.S. EPA will assign a federal implementation plan (FIP) that will enable that state to meet its emissions reduction target.

The timing of SIP submittal is a critical element in achieving the Rule’s objective of curbing emissions.  Thus, if the challengers had obtained a stay of the Rule’s effective date, the Agency’s ability to demand compliance by states with the SIP submittal date may have been jeopardized.

Hours after the regulation was published in the Federal Register, 27 states filed more than 15 separate cases against the U.S. EPA that were consolidated before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Eighteen other states, including New York and California, have joined in the consolidated lawsuits in support of the CPP. Although the final disposition of the Plan is still uncertain, the Rule remains in effect unless and until it is set aside by a court.

The opening maneuver of the Rule’s opponents was to request a stay with the goal of halting SIP submittal and U.S. EPA’s authority to enforce deadlines until the court ruled on the merits. The Agency and its allies prevailed in this initial squirmish, as the court found the Rule’s challengers “did not meet the stringent standard to grant a stay pending court review.” The result of the Court’s ruling is that all states must begin preparing to meet the CPP’s requirements or risk EPA’s imposition of a FIP.

Topics: Carbon Emissions, CPP, Clean Power, clean power plan, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, State of West Virginia v. EPA, EPA Victory, West Virginia, Stay of the Rule, Climate change, Clean Air Act, Section 111(d), Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Stay

First Democratic Presidential Debate Recap— Where Do the Candidates Stand on Energy?

Posted by Jeffrey Karp on 10/16/15 9:59 AM

American Republican and Democratic party animal symbolsIn stark contrast to the Republican match up in September, energy and climate change related policy was freely discussed during the first Democratic presidential debate. For energy industry participants, the question becomes: how will climate policies affect the kinds of projects that get built and financed if a Democrat becomes President? The takeaway after surveying the positions of the candidates presented on Tuesday night is that Americans would be building a great deal of new energy infrastructure.

Martin O’Malley: Former Maryland Governor O’Malley advocated for a green energy revolution, and put forward a plan to move the country to a 100% clean electric grid by 2050. He claims that his clean energy plan would create 5 million jobs along the way. Stressing the fact that he was the only candidate to set forth a compressive energy plan, Mr. O’Malley took issue with President Obama’s current “all of the above” strategy. In particular, Mr. O’Malley’s plan would ease financing for solar and wind energy project development by extending tax incentives through the Investment Tax Credit (ITC). His plan also calls for stricter rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to encourage energy efficiency. Although hawkish on clean energy, Mr. O’Malley did not address the recent domestic oil and natural gas boom. He also did not address the country’s transition towards 100% clean energy while maintaining base load and peaking.

Jim Webb: Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb was the outlier pro coal candidate on the slate who also supports offshore drilling and the Keystone XL oil pipeline. He touted his Senate record as an “all of the above” energy policy legislator, and highlighted his introduction of alternative energy legislation. Mr. Webb also pledged his strong support for nuclear energy as both clean and safe.

Bernie Sanders: Senator Bernie Sanders challenged Mr. Webb on the issue of nuclear energy as “safe,” but wants to act aggressively on the climate change front. Although, Mr. Sanders did not promote a plan for the nation’s energy future, he advanced a bill in July in the Senate that would make solar energy more accessible to low income families. The Sander’s bill would allocate $200 million of Department of Energy loans to offset the upfront costs of installing solar facilities.

Hillary Clinton: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not address energy policy, but seems comfortable following an “all of the above” strategy. She is a defender of the Clean Power Plan. According to Mrs. Clinton’s “climate change fact sheet,” she would extend the ITC and expand installed solar capacity to 140 gigawatts by the end of 2020, a 700% increase from current levels. Mrs. Clinton’s plan lacks a strategy on the natural gas shale boom occurring in America, but she just may be holding back discussing her complete energy policy as she did with her decision to oppose the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Lincoln Chaffee: Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee stated that he consistently has taken on the coal lobby during his time in the Senate and named the lobby the enemy he is most proud of combating. Although he didn’t have an opportunity to comment on energy policy, his campaign website states that he always has opposed the Keystone XL oil pipeline, as well as drilling in the Artic region.

Energy and climate change issues will remain a priority topic for the Democratic candidates on the campaign trail and it will be interesting to watch the role these issues play in future debates. Both parties appear to support building more energy infrastructure. However, they seem to diverge on the types of projects that would be promoted, with Republicans leaning towards building oil and gas pipelines with varying stances on renewables while Democrats favor solar energy development. Although the primary season has just begun and it is early in the election cycle, participants in the energy sector should be mindful of how the candidates’ energy policies may impact their business model.

Topics: Carbon Emissions, Energy Policy, Energy Finance, Distributed Energy, Solar Energy, Renewable Energy, Wind, Oil & Gas

Can the Clean Power Plan Achieve Its Carbon Emission Reduction Goal Through Increased Renewable Energy Development?

Posted by Jeffrey Karp on 9/22/15 10:41 AM

photovoltaic cells and high voltage post.

Co authors Van P. Hilderbrand and Morgan M. Gerard

As the dust settles amidst the hoopla and angst surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) final promulgation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP or the final Plan), a theme has emerged – renewables are expected to be a major energy source. From proposal in 2014 to U.S. EPA’s final rule in August 2015, the share of renewables in the agency’s forecast of the U.S. power sector in 2030 jumped from 22 to 28 percent. Concomitantly, the final Plan further highlights the anticipated strong presence of renewable energy resources in the states’ future energy mix.

The question now arises whether enough renewable energy resources can be built to enable the states' to meet their respective carbon emissions from power plants. The answer depends on whether investors will have adequate incentives and financing mechanisms to “prime the pump” and generate the requisite megawatts of renewable energy to help meet the final Plan’s emission reduction targets.

The Final Plan’s Approach to Carbon Emission Reduction

The CPP’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions from stationary energy-generating sources such as coal and gas power plants. In the final Plan, U.S. EPA assigned each state a specific emissions reduction target. The agency then provided the states with discretion and flexibility to decide how to meet those targets within the context of the CPP’s designated “building blocks” (discussed later). However, if a state fails to submit an adequate implementation plan by the 2016 or request an extension for plan development until 2018, U.S. EPA will assign the state a federal implementation plan (FIP) that will enable that state to meet its emission reduction target. A sample FIP, which creates an opted-in cap-and-trade marketplace, was released with the final Plan on August 3, 2015.

Establishment of Emissions Reduction Rates: Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act requires that U.S. EPA determine the “best system of emissions reduction” (BSER) for pollutants such as carbon dioxide. To achieve this result, the agency examined the technologies, strategies, and measures previously implemented by states and utilities to reduce emissions at existing power plants.

Power NightThis examination yielded three “building blocks” in the final rule that a state may use to meet emission reduction targets. It may improve heat rates at existing power plants to make them more energy efficient (Building Block 1); use more lower-emitting energy sources like natural gas rather then higher-emitting sources like coal (Building Block 2); and/or use more zero-emitting energy sources like renewable energy (Building Block 3). U.S. EPA then considered the ranges of reductions that could be achieved at existing coal and natural gas power plants at a reasonable cost by application of each building block.

The building blocks were applied to coal and natural gas plants across the three U.S. interconnection regional grids - the Western interconnection, the Eastern interconnection, and the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas interconnection. The analysis conducted by U.S. EPA produced regional emission performance rates - one for coal plants and one for natural gas plants. The agency then chose the most readily achievable rate for each source (both calculated from the Eastern interconnection) and applied the rate uniformly to all affected sources nationwide to develop rate-based and mass-based standards. Although this approach created uniformity, nonetheless, each state still was assigned a different emissions target based on its own specific mix of affected sources.

Plan Implementation: As noted, U.S. EPA has enabled the states to decide the manner in which to meet their reduction targets. Thus, the CPP does not mandate specific changes to a state’s fuel mix; rather, states are free to determine how best to meet their emission reduction targets. For example, as applicable, a state may focus solely on Building Block 1 and making efficiency improvements at existing coal and natural gas plants. Conversely, a state may focus on Building Block 3 and incentivize development of more zero-emitting energy sources. Or, all three of the building blocks may be used to achieve a state’s targets.

The CPP’s approach to achieving compliance is notable because critics have argued that, under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, U.S. EPA cannot regulate beyond the “fence line” (e.g., the agency can only regulate a power plant itself, and cannot count unrelated energy efficiency measures and renewable energy development toward achieving compliance). In an apparent effort to shield the CPP from legal challenges, the agency removed demand-side energy efficiency improvements as a building block in the final rule. Moreover, by not forcing the states to utilize a particular mechanism to achieve compliance, the agency’s decision-makers seem to believe the final Rule is better positioned to withstand the inevitable appeals process.

  • Larger Role Expected for Renewables: U.S. EPA contemplates that renewable energy will play a prominent role in the evolving U.S. power sector. The draft rule estimated that by 2030, 22 percent of the country’s electricity would be generated by renewable resources. In the final Plan, EPA estimates the share of renewables at 28 percent. According to the agency, this increase is a function of market forces and a continued decline in energy prices. It also is in line with the final Plan’s deeper cuts to emissions overall. The final Plan targets a 32 percent decline in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, whereas the proposed rule had a 30 percent reduction goal. Nonetheless, whether sufficient renewable energy resources are developed to help meet the final Plan’s emission reduction targets depends on whether sufficient incentives exist and risks can be adequately minimized. Potential investors dislike uncertainty, especially when it involves committing large amounts of funding to development projects over a lengthy time horizon.
  • Incentives for Renewables: The final Plan seeks to incentivize the deployment of renewable energy through early renewable procurement under EPA’s Clean Energy Incentive Program, which makes available additional allowances or emission credits for investments in zero-emitting wind or solar power projects during 2020 and 2021, prior to the rule's 2022 implementation date. As discussed below, other incentives may be provided by the U.S. Department of Energy and Congressional action on favorable tax legislation.
  • Coordinating Role with the Department of Energy: President Obama recently announced a coordinating role for the Department of Energy (DOE) in connection with the CPP. The DOE’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) will make available up to one billion dollars in loan guarantees to support commercial-scale distributed energy projects, such as rooftop solar with storage and smart grid technology. Expanded funding also is available though DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), which has awarded $24 million for 11 high-performance solar photovoltaic power projects.
  • Seeking Congressional Clarity on Tax Credits: By extending the compliance deadlines from 2016 in the proposed Plan to 2018 in the final Plan, U.S. EPA provided states with additional time to build out the necessary infrastructure to achieve compliance. The deadline extension also provides more time for Congress to establish clarity regarding the federal investment tax credit (ITC). The ITC presently enables investors to credit 30 percent of a project’s costs to their taxable basis, but the credit is scheduled to decrease to 10 percent on January 1, 2017 without a Congressional extension.

70,000 solar panels await activation.For renewable energy, and particularly solar, to play a seminal role in effectuating the final Plan requires a functioning solar market. Solar projects are characterized by high upfront costs and long payout periods. Without supportive policies like the ITC, solar developers may face difficulties finding suitable power purchasers, thus negatively impacting the ability to procure financing. Further, utilities may be unable to bear the full costs of the CPP without assistance from the private market. Utilities typically procure power from already-financed projects. If required to underwrite solar on their own, utilities may need to finance such projects using their credit rating and balance sheet, thus passing along infrastructure costs to ratepayers.

Although some solar proponents believe the ITC step-down will not negatively affect the market’s vitality because the price of renewables is now cost competitive enough to survive the shift, others in the industry dispute this view. Irrespective, the upcoming ITC step-down creates uncertainty in the market. The Production Tax Credit (PTC), generally associated with wind projects, recently passed through the Senate Finance Committee, provides the potential for a similar ITC revival. With the additional compliance period granted to the states in the final rule, Congress now has the opportunity to provide clarity by acting favorably on both of these tax credits by late-2016.

State Incentives

Renewable energy-friendly states have enacted legislative, promulgated regulatory enforcement mechanisms, and provided financial incentives to encourage the development of renewable energy resources. For example, some states participate in cap-and–trade programs (e.g., Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)), have enacted renewable energy portfolio standards, provide favorable treatment under public utility commission regulations (e.g., favorable net-metering schemes and third-party financing for renewable energy development), and offer other state or local tax credits. The impact of such programs on carbon emission reduction is reflected in the lower targets assigned under the final Plan, for example, to California and Massachusetts - 13.2 percent (126 lbs. CO2 / MWh) and 17.8 percent (179 lbs. CO2 / MWh), respectively.

Despite Emphasis in the Final Plan, Uncertainty Still Remains Regarding Renewables Development

The final Plan provides a level of regulatory clarity, but the path forward remains uncertain in light of looming legal battles regarding whether the Plan oversteps U.S. EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act and political divisiveness in Congress. It also is unknown whether the next U.S. President will support the rule or try to dismantle the Plan.

These uncertainties, coupled with concern over the future of the ITC, may lead to substantial implementation delays, or even complete eradication or substantial revision of the final Plan. Even if the CPP withstands challenge, nonetheless, some states may be unable to meet their emission reduction targets if adequate renewable energy financing mechanisms have not developed by 2018, the time by which state's must submit their emission reduction plans. Understandably, potential investors may be leery about committing substantial funds to renewable energy projects unless or until the likely outcome of legal challenges to the CPP can be better assessed, and regulatory and political risks more accurately calculated.

While renewable energy resources seem to be a favored approach under the final Plan, a comprehensive strategy that effectively facilitates the financing of such projects is essential to achieve the Plan’s emission reduction targets.

Topics: Utilities, Carbon Emissions, Energy Policy, Structured Transactions & Tax, Energy Efficiency, Power Generation, Microgrid, Energy Finance, Legislation, Distributed Energy, Energy Management, Renewable Energy

Offshore Wind Update: Is the Tide Finally Turning for Offshore Wind in the United States?

Posted by Jeffrey Karp on 9/10/15 9:54 AM

Offshore Wind Turbines ThinkstockPhotos-472311594

Co-authors Jim Wrathall and Van Hilderbrand

For more than a decade, offshore wind has been viewed as the next big thing in the U.S. energy mix. In Europe, billions of euros have been invested in 82 offshore wind farms — 10.4 GW of capacity, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) — roughly equivalent to the power production of 10 large nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, the United States market stalled completely, mired in regulatory uncertainties, litigation, and lack of financing.

However, there are several reasons to believe the sector has reached an inflection point in 2015. Macro energy supply, economic considerations, and climate-related concerns support development of U.S. offshore wind projects (now more than ever), particularly in the New England and mid-Atlantic regions. Traditional coal-burning power plants are rapidly being retired, and they’re not being replaced. Offshore wind is one of the few resources offering the necessary scale to fill the coming void. Wind energy is also becoming far less costly, given technology improvements, and is increasingly supported by federal and state policies addressing climate change.

Can the U.S. offshore wind market finally turn the corner? Recent developments suggest that it could.

Please see our publication in Wind Systems Magazine starting at page 14 for more information on offshore wind: Is the Tide Finally Turning for Offshore Wind in the United States?

Topics: Renewable Energy, Wind

Offshore Wind Has Come to the U.S.; EPCs Can Help It Gain Momentum

Posted by Jeffrey Karp on 8/27/15 10:08 AM

Co-authors Jim Wrathall, Van Hilderbrand and Morgan Gerard

Offshore wind energy could add 4.2 million megawatts to the generating capacity of the U.S., according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, but the U.S. market has stalled almost completely, hindered by regulatory uncertainties, political opposition, litigation and a lack of available financing. Recently, however, several broad market and regulatory themes have emerged—record low energy prices, technology improvements, the start of construction of the first commercial offshore project near Rhode Island’s Block Island and increasingly favorable federal and state policies for renewables such as the Clean Power Plan—that give reasons to believe that the sector has reached an inflection point in 2015. The question now is how to build and sustain the momentum.

Please see our publication on ENR.com for more information about offshore wind: Offshore Wind Has Come to the U.S.; EPCs Can Help It Gain Momentum

Topics: Utilities, Energy Policy, Structured Transactions & Tax, Power Generation, Energy Finance, Legislation, Wind

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