Category: Renewables

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K&L Gates Advises Unico Solar Investors on Commercial and Industrial Solar Projects Joint-Venture Partnership
2
Join Us: COVID-19: Renewable Energy – Global Post-COVID-19 Outlook
3
FERC Announces Conferences on Carbon Pricing and Offshore Wind in RTOs/ISOs
4
UPDATED June 17, 2020: The Nation Goes the Way Montana Goes? Nationwide Permit 12 Vacatur and Injunction
5
Treasury Issues Carbon Capture Credit Proposed Regulations
6
Treasury Guidance Buoys Solar and Wind in 2020 and Beyond
7
CLE Presentation: COVID-19: Perspectives for the “Next New Normal” for Renewable and Utility Companies
8
Join Us! Energy Storage Association Webinar: Energy Storage, Trade and China
9
Treasury to Extend Deadlines for Accessing Wind, Solar Tax Credits
10
Trump Administration To Consider Whether Imports Pose a Threat to the U.S. Energy Infrastructure

K&L Gates Advises Unico Solar Investors on Commercial and Industrial Solar Projects Joint-Venture Partnership

Seattle – Global law firm K&L Gates LLP has advised solar energy systems developer Unico Solar Investors on a long-term joint-venture partnership with Excelsior Energy Capital, a leading independent North American renewable energy investor, to build, own, and operate a 250 MW pipeline of commercial and industrial solar projects across North America.

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Unico Investment Group, Unico Solar will develop and manage the portfolio, which will consist of ground-mount, rooftop, and carport solar projects across multiple U.S. states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington, among others. The projects will provide clean electricity to a variety of customers, including commercial businesses, property owners, municipalities, educational institutions, utilities, and others, with construction expected to begin later this year.

The K&L Gates team that advised on the partnership was led by Seattle partner David Benson and included Seattle partner Elizabeth Crouse, Houston partner Edmundo de la Fuente, and Portland partner William Holmes, as well as Seattle associates Adam Heyd and Brad Lewis, Orange County associate Lana Le Hir, Houston associate Olivia Mora, and Boston associate Mike O’Neill.

Join Us: COVID-19: Renewable Energy – Global Post-COVID-19 Outlook

Join us on June 30, 2020 at 4:30pm EDT for a webinar on the Post-COVID-19 Outlook for renewable energy.

Emerging from the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis, the renewables industry has experienced many positive and negative effects, from enormous job loss to valuable cost reductions, innovation in project development, and an uptick in storage contracts. However, there is still significant uncertainty about what a second wave of lock-downs may bring as well as the effect of the macroeconomic climate on investor appetite.

Our expert panel will share with you what they expect to see in the development and power markets worldwide as well as the hot new trends they see as helping the industry emerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger and more resilient than ever.

Moderator:

Speakers:

For more information and to register, please click here.

FERC Announces Conferences on Carbon Pricing and Offshore Wind in RTOs/ISOs

By: William Keyser, David Hattery, Buck Endemann, and Abraham Johns

On June 18, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) announced that it will hold two separate technical conferences later this year.  First, FERC will hold a Commissioner-led technical conference on September 30, 2020 to discuss issues related to carbon dioxide emission pricing (i.e., “carbon pricing”) as adopted by states in FERC-jurisdictional wholesale electricity markets (“Carbon Pricing in Organized Wholesale Electricity Markets”).  Second, FERC staff will hold a technical conference on October 27, 2020 to discuss whether existing frameworks for transmission, interconnection, and merchant transmission facilities can incorporate the growing offshore wind generation efficiently and effectively (“Offshore Wind Integration in RTOs/ISOs”).

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UPDATED June 17, 2020: The Nation Goes the Way Montana Goes? Nationwide Permit 12 Vacatur and Injunction

By: Ankur K. Tohan, Buck B. Endemann, and Tad J. Macfarlan

On April 15, 2020, the Montana federal district court issued an Order in Northern Plains Resource Council v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, No. 4:19-cv-00044-BMM (D. Mont.) (NPRC v. Corps) that may have far reaching implications for energy development projects across the United States.

In a case involving the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, the Montana court vacated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12. The Court concluded that because the Corps failed to consult under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 when it reissued NWP 12 in 2017, the permit is not valid and the Corps may not authorize work under the terms and conditions of NWP 12.

Background, Key findings, and Order

The Corp’s 2017 Reissuance of NWP 12. When the Corps reissued NWP 12 (along with all other NWPs) in 2017, it determined that ESA consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (the “Services”) was not required because the reissuance of NWPs has “no effect” on ESA-listed species or critical habitat.

Court’s Key Findings. The court held that the Corps’ “no effect determination and resulting decision to forego programmatic consultation proves arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Corps’ obligations under the ESA.” The court concluded that the Corps cannot circumvent ESA Section 7(a)(2) consultation requirements by relying on project-level review (e.g., by non-federal entities) under NWP General Condition 18’s preconstruction notification (PCN) requirement. The court reasoned that (1) General Condition 18’s PCN requirement fails to ensure that the Corps fulfills its obligations under ESA Section 7(a)(2) because it delegates the Corps’ initial effect determination to non-federal permittees.

Court’s Order. Based on the court’s findings, the Order (1) vacated NWP 12; (2) remanded NWP 12 to the Corps to initiate consultation now; and (3) enjoined the Corps from authorizing work under NWP 12 until consultation is completed.

Potential Implications if a Motion for Reconsideration or Stay is not Granted

Immediate Impact on Projects with NWP 12 Authorization. The Order creates immediate uncertainty for project proponents needing NWP 12 authorization. If the Order is not stayed or appealed, the Corps could reopen programmatic consultation with the Services, which could take several months or longer to complete and, once completed, may be subject to further litigation. In addition, the Order could be leveraged by other plaintiffs targeting the Corps’ other NWPs that rely on General Condition 18. Given the uncertainty, developers will need to consider their current permitting options, which may include other NWPs, individual 404 permits (which trigger NEPA, NHPA, and ESA), or project redesign to avoid impacts to regulated waters.

Current Status

On April 27, 2020, the Corps filed motions for expedited briefing and consideration for a partial stay of the Order pending an appeal. The Corps’ motion asks the Court to stay “those portions of its April 15, 2020, Order that vacate NWP 12 and broadly enjoin the Corps from authorizing any dredge or fill activities under the permit”; or at “the very least, the Court should stay its vacatur and injunction as they relate to anything other than the Keystone XL pipeline.”

**UPDATE**:    On April 28, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris denied the Corps’ motion for a temporary administrative stay of the court’s vacatur, injunction, and remand orders.  Judge Morris ordered Plaintiffs and the Corps to complete briefing on an expedited basis by May 8, however, on the Corps’ broader request for a stay pending appeal, which should give permit-seekers and holders additional insight into the immediate future of NWP 12.

**UPDATE May 7, 2020**: On May 7, 2020, Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the Corps’ Motion for Partial Stay Pending Appeal. Significantly, Plaintiffs agree with the Corps to ask the Court to revise the remedy that the was ordered on April 15, 2020.  Specifically, Plaintiffs propose that the Court modify these remedies as follows.

(1) narrowing the vacatur of NWP 12 to a partial vacatur that applies to the construction of new oil and gas pipelines, thereby keeping NWP 12 in place during remand insofar as it authorizes non-pipeline construction activities as well as routine maintenance, inspection, and repair activities on existing NWP 12 projects; and

(2) narrowing the injunction to enjoin the Corps from authorizing any dredge or fill activities for Keystone XL under NWP 12. This relief would afford appropriate protection for endangered and threatened species and their critical habitats while minimizing any potential disruption claimed by Defendants.

**UPDATE May 12, 2020**: On May 11, 2020, the Montana District Court issued its ruling on the Corps’ motion to stay the court’s original Order issued on April 15, 2020. 

The Court denied the motion to stay Order pending an appeal to the 9th Circuit.  However, the Court adopted Plaintiffs’ proposal that the Court revise the scope of remedy in the original Order to apply only to new and gas construction projects. The Court narrowed the scope vacatur and injunction as follows:

  1. NWP 12 is vacated as it relates to the construction of new oil and gas pipelines pending completion of the consultation process and compliance with all environmental statutes and regulations. NWP 12 remains in place during remand insofar as it authorizes non-pipeline construction activities and routine maintenance, inspection, and repair activities on existing NWP 12 projects.
  2. The Corps is enjoined from authoring any dredge or fill activities for the construction of new oil and gas pipelines under NWP 12 pending completion of the consultation process and compliance with all environmental statutes and regulations. The Corps remains able to authorize dredge or fill activities for nonpipeline construction activities and routine maintenance, inspection, and repair activities on existing NWP 12 projects.

**UPDATE June 17, 2020**: On June 15, 2020, the US Solicitor General, on behalf of the US Army Corps of Engineers, filed an application for a stay with the US Supreme Court.

The application seeks a stay of the April 15, 2020, order issued by the United States District Court for the District of Montana (as amended May 11), pending an appeal of that order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, pending a future appeal to the US Supreme Court.

The Solicitor states that the district court “had no warrant to set aside NWP 12 with respect to Keystone XL, let alone for the construction of all new oil and gas pipelines anywhere in the country.”

The Solicitor points to the fact that when plaintiffs brought the original lawsuit to challenge the Corps’ alleged use of NWP 12, they limited their claims and relief to the use of NWP 12 to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. According to the filing, plaintiffs expressly disclaimed any request for vacatur of NWP 12, or an injunction, extending beyond Keystone XL itself; and made no “meaningful effort to establish Article III standing to challenge the potential application of NWP 12 to crossings by any other specific proposed pipelines.” Despite these facts, the Solicitor argues, the district court first vacated NWP 12 on a nationwide basis, and then in an amended order narrowed the scope of vacatur to all new oil and gas projects.

The Solicitor argues that a stay is appropriate because the district court order went well beyond what the plaintiffs original sought, is inconsistent with Article III and traditional principles of notice and equity, and was wrongly decided on ESA grounds. The Solicitor argues that the “Corps reasonably determined that merely re-issuing NWP 12 would have no effect on listed species or critical habitat — and therefore did not trigger any consultation requirement under the ESA — because the regulatory scheme and conditions in NWP 12 ensure that any necessary consultation occurs on an activity-specific basis.”

The US Supreme Court is evaluating the application.

Treasury Issues Carbon Capture Credit Proposed Regulations

Author: Elizabeth C. Crouse

Treasury is having a busy week! This afternoon, the U.S. Department of Treasury released proposed regulations under Code Section 45Q. Code Section 45Q provides for a U.S. federal income tax credit of 10% or 20% for carbon oxide sequestration and disposal in secure geologic storage, used as a tertiary injectant in a qualified enhanced oil or natural gas recovery project and then disposed of in secure geologic storage, or utilized algal or bacterial disposition, chemical conversion processes, or other methods, as provided in regulations.

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Treasury Guidance Buoys Solar and Wind in 2020 and Beyond

By: Elizabeth C. Crouse

This afternoon, the Department of Treasury issued eagerly anticipated guidance extending the continuous construction/efforts test safe harbor to five years for wind, solar, and other tax credit projects that began construction in 2016 and 2017.

The extension applies for purposes of the Code Section 48 investment tax credit and the Code Section 45 production tax credit, and to projects that began construction under either the significant physical work test or the 5% safe harbor. Projects that began construction in 2016 now have through December 31, 2021 to be placed in service without proving continuous construction or continuous efforts. Projects that began construction in 2017 now have through December 31, 2022 to be placed in service for the same purpose. This extension is a boon to the industry, particularly the many wind projects that have experienced disrupted schedules due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Treasury also granted a boon to the solar industry in the same guidance by providing a generally applicable safe harbor for purposes of the 3.5 month test frequently used to safe harbor supplies procured in the last quarter of a calendar year. Specifically, Notice 2020-41 provides that if a taxpayer paid for any services or property paid on or before September 16, 2019 and the services or property are “actually received” by the taxpayer by October 15, 2020, the “taxpayer will be deemed to have had a reasonable expectation” of timely delivery for purposes of the 3.5 month test. This guidance follows months of efforts by participants across the wind and solar industries to obtain assurance that project delays would not negatively impact tax credit availability. By extending these tests, Treasury has provided significant comfort to many investors and ensured the continued advancement of the power industry and the thousands of jobs it provides to Americans across the country.

CLE Presentation: COVID-19: Perspectives for the “Next New Normal” for Renewable and Utility Companies

Join us on Wednesday, June 10, 2020, for a CLE presentation on “COVID-19: Perspectives for the “Next New Normal” for Renewable and Utility Companies.”

Companies are seeing unprecedented legal and business impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  These impacts are bringing about changes in strategy and how many companies approach their day-to-day business operations to adapt to this new business environment. This one-hour session will involve a presentation by the following K&L Gates attorneys sharing their perspectives on what to consider during the “next new normal.”

Moderator: 

Panelists:

This presentation will include the evolving legal and business impacts of COVID-19 in connection with:

  • Contract Issues
  • Insurance Issues
  • Potential Work Issues
  • Litigation Trends

This webinar will contain a chat feature in which you can submit questions so that we may tailor this presentation to address your concerns.

To register, please click here.

Join Us! Energy Storage Association Webinar: Energy Storage, Trade and China

Please join K&L Gates’ Elizabeth Crouse on the Energy Storage Association’s upcoming webinar, Energy Storage, Trade and China, on Thursday, May 21 from 12:00 PM – 1:00 CDT.

This webinar will explore the key trade and national security policies that currently impact the ESS market in the U.S. and assess their potential impacts on future deployments, including:

• How might regulatory developments under the Executive Order impact storage?
• What might the future hold for tariffs?
• How do these processes play out in an election year?

For more information and to register, please click here.

Treasury to Extend Deadlines for Accessing Wind, Solar Tax Credits

Author: Elizabeth Crouse

This afternoon, the Office of Legislative Affairs at the Department of Treasury, issued a letter to Charles Grassley, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, indicating that Treasury intends to issue administrative relief to the solar and wind industries regarding certain investment tax credit (“ITC”) and production tax credit (“PTC”) deadlines. Although the letter does not provide any details as to the nature of this relief, Chairman Grassley’s April 23, 2020 letter to Treasury requested that the four-year safe harbor for the continuous construction and continuous efforts test for the PTC and ITC be extended to a five-year safe harbor period.

Chairman Grassley did not request administrative relief concerning the impact of COVID-19 related measures taken by manufacturers and shipping companies on a customer’s “reasonable expectation” that materials purchased in 2019 would be delivered within 3.5 months after payment. This latter provision is important for purposes for establishing beginning of construction of solar projects in 2019.

Trump Administration To Consider Whether Imports Pose a Threat to the U.S. Energy Infrastructure

Authors: Stacy J. Ettinger, Steven F. Hill, David L. Benson, William M. Keyser

On May 4, 2020, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced an investigation into whether imports of certain power distribution transformers and parts threaten to impair U.S. national security. A few days earlier, on May 1, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order declaring a national emergency over potential foreign threats to the security of the U.S. bulk power system.  Both actions, which are in response to perceived foreign threats to the U.S. electrical power grid, will likely result in the imposition of significant restrictions on the importation of covered equipment.  As discussed below, each action will proceed along separate paths.

Commerce Section 232 National Security Investigation

On May 4, 2020, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the agency intends to initiate an investigation under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962[1] into whether imports of certain power distribution transformers and parts threaten to impair U.S. national security. Secretary Ross indicated the investigation will focus on “laminations for stacked cores for incorporation into transformers, stacked and wound cores for incorporation into transformers, electrical transformers, and transformer regulators.” 

Once initiated, the investigation must be completed within 270 days. Commerce will then provide its report and recommendations to the President, at which point the President has 90 days to determine the nature and duration of action to “adjust” imports.

The law gives the President complete discretion (“in the judgment of the President”) to choose the nature or duration of any action to adjust imports “so that such imports will not threaten to impair the national security.” Previous Section 232 actions included imposition of import tariffs, fees, and quotas, as well as complete embargo of subject imports. For example, in March 2018 President Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports as a result of similar Section 232 investigations launched in April 2017. The President also has the option of negotiating agreements with trading partners to limit subject imports, the option embraced by President Trump in the context of the Section 232 investigation launched in May 2018 with respect to imports of automobiles.

Executive Order to Secure U.S. Bulk-Power System from Foreign Adversary Threats

On May 1, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order[2] declaring a national emergency over potential foreign threats to the U.S. bulk-power system from foreign adversaries that may seek to commit malicious acts against the United States and its population including malicious cyber activities.  The Order empowers the U.S. government to block imports of certain equipment that could endanger the security of U.S. power plants.

As a practical matter, the new Order does not ban anything, but rather instructs the Department of Energy to issue regulations within 150 days.  These regulations are expected to set forth procedures whereby specifically identified bulk power equipment may be prohibited from importation, acquisition, transfer, or installation.  (This process will likely be similar to that laid out in Commerce Department regulations implementing a 2019 Executive Order declaring a national emergency with respect to the information and communications technology and services supply chain concerns.[3]  Please see our prior alert for an explanation of those Commerce regulations.[4])

The May 1st Order provides authorization to target any acquisition, importation, transfer, or installation (transaction) of to-be-identified bulk-power system electric equipment designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by persons owned/controlled by/subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary, where the transaction—

  • poses an undue risk of sabotage to or subversion of the design, integrity, manufacturing, production, distribution, installation, operation, or maintenance of the bulk-power system in the United States;
  • poses an undue risk of catastrophic effects on the security or resiliency of United States critical infrastructure or the economy of the United States; or
  • otherwise poses an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of United States persons.

The Order provides a somewhat generic definition of the term “foreign adversary” as “any foreign government or foreign non-government person engaged in a long-term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to the national security of the United States or its allies or the security and safety of United States persons.”  The Commerce regulations (referenced above) include this same definition which gives the agency discretion to identify foreign adversaries as needed.

Implications

Trump Administration actions in response to perceived foreign threats to the U.S. electrical power grid could include sweeping import restrictions with a significant impact on both the renewable and conventional power industries. Until the Department of Energy issues regulations to implement the Executive Order, the order will not directly impact any power plant project or transaction.   


[1] 19 U.S.C. 1862 (2018); https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCODE-2018-title19/html/USCODE-2018-title19-chap7-subchapII-partIV-sec1862.htm.

[2] https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/05/04/2020-09695/securing-the-united-states-bulk-power-system.

[3] https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/05/17/2019-10538/securing-the-information-and-communications-technology-and-services-supply-chain.

[4] http://www.klgates.com/commerce-proposes-process-to-evaluate-transactions-involving-information-and-communications-technology-and-services-for-national-security-concerns-12-03-2019/

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