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April 01, 2018 Column

Chair’s Column

By Peter V. Lacouture

In my final Chair’s Column for Infrastructure, I will share some thoughts about the siting of renewable energy projects based on recent events in Rhode Island and I will highlight the section’s accomplishments in this, its 100th year.

The typical American electric consumer expects a reliable, economical supply of electricity so that their hot tubs are hot and their iPhones are charged. Recent developments in the siting of renewable energy projects in Rhode Island and elsewhere echo the siting disputes of the last half-century.

New Englanders have a rich history of protesting energy projects dating back to the days of nuclear power plant construction (e.g., Seabrook Station). The protests over development of nuclear power were supplanted in recent years with concerns about new gas pipelines that would supply “fracked” gas to consumers in New England and other parts of the country. This opposition has expanded to include protests over the permitting of natural gas fueled electric generating stations.

In the early days of renewables, neighbors of proposed wind turbines were concerned that a wind turbine’s blade might break, thereby transforming the blade into a lethal missile. More recently, neighbors of proposed large-scale wind projects have complained about the potential for “flicker” or shadows created by the wind turbines.

The push by New England states to increase the percentage of renewable energy in their energy mix has led to the issuance of RFPs for renewable energy. This has resulted in a number of off-shore wind proposals and a proliferation of proposals for land-based industrial scale solar installations. While some of the early on-shore solar installations were constructed on closed landfills and other brownfield sites, many recent proposals target greenfield sites, often in residential areas and on farmland. A corollary of these developments is the need to clear cut large areas of all trees and vegetation. Although the developers argue that, when the solar installation reaches the end of its useful life, the solar panels and other equipment can be removed and the site restored, neighbors will likely live with the industrial facility on the adjacent property for many years.

The solution to this seemingly intractable dilemma (renewable energy vs. deforestation) is more thoughtful siting of these large industrial scale renewable energy facilities. For example, in New England there are many brownfield sites in industrial areas that are not suitable for redevelopment for residential uses. These sites would appear to be ideal for the installation of solar facilities, making the site productive while avoiding impacts on residential neighbors. One can only hope that the developers of these projects will adopt an approach that balances the need and desire for more renewable energy with the goal of preserving open space, farms, and forests.

* * *

Early in my year as chair of the section, I announced that our theme for the section’s 100th anniversary year was “Look Back and Look Forward.” I realized part way through the year that a more appropriate theme is “Look Back and Move Forward” and feel that we have accomplished this during the year. We have provided substantive content to our members in several ways. Five of our committees have written 100th anniversary essays, which have been published in Infrastructure. The committees (and authors) are Oil Pipeline (Steven Brose); Telecommunications (Chris Binnig and J. Tyson Covey); Nuclear Energy (Brad Fewell, Donald Ferraro, and Darani Reddick); State Regulatory (Charlie Read, Joe Seliga, Mitch Holzrichter, and Noelle Coates); and Electricity (Casey Wren, Mark Strain, and Everett Britt). We appreciate their efforts.

We have also presented three webinars this year, including “Regulated Industry M&A Transactions,” “Current Developments in Grid Reliability,” and “Lessons Learned and Recent Developments in Integrating Electric Storage into Power Systems.” The panels have each featured experts in the respective fields. As we have previously announced, these webinars, which qualify for CLE credit, are free to members of our section. While the development and presentation of a webinar requires efforts from a number of people, a resounding thank you goes out to Cathy McCarthy, who has been the moving force behind our webinars for several years and, I understand, has several more webinars in the planning stage. Thank you Cathy.

Finally, in an effort to introduce the section to younger practitioners, we have held the first of a series of receptions for young lawyers, in New York City. We are planning to hold additional receptions in cities where our members live and practice. The moving force behind these receptions and the organizer of the New York reception is Courtney McCormick.

Although he is remembered in a touching tribute by his partner, Stan Blanton, and also remembered in Casey Wren’s editor’s column, I would like to note the passing of Eason Balch, who was a member of the section and a strong influence on it for many years.

I would like to express my appreciation and that of the section to the following members who have contributed to our successes this year:

  • The committee chairs, vice-chairs and their colleagues who have written committee reports which are posted on the IRIS website and are also writing reports for publication in Recent Developments;
  • Infrastructure editors Casey Wren and Chuck Patrizia and the many authors who contributed articles to the four issues of Infrastructure which we have published this year;
  • Recent Developments co-editors Millie Ronnlund and Daniel Poynor. Having edited Recent Developments for 12 years, I understand the effort involved in gathering and editing the submissions and publishing the book.

I also want to thank Navigant and our primary Navigant contacts, Debra Aron and Scott Carr, for their ongoing sponsorship of the section. In addition to financial support, Debra, Scott, and their colleagues have provided substantive presentations at meetings and in webinars. We look forward to Scott’s presentation on artificial intelligence at our annual meeting in Chicago on August 4, 2018.

Thanks also to Wendy Smith, who has edited Recent Developments for 14 years and is now also editing Infrastructure. Wendy has been instrumental in getting the publications edited and published on a timely basis while maintaining her good humor.

Our section director, Sue Koz, and her assistant Patricia Honig are critical to the functioning of the section. Sue has recently celebrated her 30th anniversary with the ABA and has been our section director for 18 years. Several years ago I attended an ABA meeting in Chicago where former section chairs were offering “best practices” tips to prospective section chairs. One of the suggestions that a former chair offered was “Do what Sue says.” Although I am certain the former chair was speaking of a different Sue, I found this to be very useful advice and will pass it along to my successor, Mark Darrell.

Mark, who is Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer of Spire Inc., will become chair of the section as of the annual meeting on August 4, 2018. We appreciate Mark’s willingness to step into the role of vice chair on short notice upon the resignation of the then vice chair. I wish him the best of success and hope that he enjoys chairing the section as much as I have.

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By Peter V. Lacouture