Notes from the Energy Fair
[By Michael Allen] On June 22, I attended the 25th anniversary of the Energy Fair, sponsored by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. The Energy Fair seldom disappoints, and this year was no exception.
I viewed an excellent presentation on developing community solar projects by Peter Teigland, the Vice President for Business Development of Minnesota Community Solar. Peter discussed the alternate structures of community solar projects that this developer had utilized in the State of Minnesota under different circumstances, including the Xcel Energy community solar gardens programs, and community solar projects involving non-profit entities. The information was extremely helpful and will be relevant to the increasing number of Wisconsin solar developers, installers and investors who have approached Energy Law Wisconsin about doing their own community solar projects. In addition, Minnesota Community Solar may well be a worthwhile development partner for Wisconsin solar installers who wish to pursue these projects.
I also spoke with Craig Harmes, Manager, Business Development for Dairyland Power Cooperative, about the increasing use of community solar among Dairyland’s member cooperatives. Among other things, ground will be broken next week on a 300 kW community solar project in Westby, Wisconsin, serving the Vernon Electrical Cooperative. This project was built with the help of Clean Energy Collective out of Colorado. member cooperatives are currently planning or have expressed significant interest in community solar projects.
In addition, I visited with the solar innovators at Solar Mosaic and got my picture taken with Bill Ehlrich, one of the writers for the Solar Mosaic blog. Solar Mosaic, a firm that connects borrowers seeking solar financing with investors, made its first appearance ever at the Energy Fair this year. I had the chance to catch up with Bill and learn about new initiatives Solar Mosaic has in the pipeline to make its offerings available to additional investors.
I rounded out my visit to the Energy Fair by visiting with renewable energy clients and friends who are regulars at the Energy Fair, including employees of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association itself. If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend the Energy Fair in the past – it’s part trade show, part celebration and lots of fun. Next year’s Fair is June 19-21, 2015.
Written on June 23, 2014 at 11:35 am, by Michael Allen
ELW in the Community – Spring Happenings
Once we at Energy Law Wisconsin shook off the last of the snow from our historic winter, we were off and running. Here is a sampling of some of the events we’ve been involved with this spring:
RENEW Wisconsin Windspread Retreat
On April 22, Michael Allen celebrated Earth Day by attending RENEW Wisconsin’s Strategic Planning Session at Wingspread in Racine, Wisconsin. Michael and the rest of the RENEW Board met with thought leaders in the renewable energy community to develop and fine tune RENEW’s strategic vision for 2014 and beyond. RENEW Wisconsin continues to advance renewable energy policies for Wisconsin through advocacy, education, and collaborative initiatives in its 23rd year. Michael is completing his sixth year as a RENEW Board member. For more information and 2014 updates, click here.
Midwest Solar Expo
The Midwest Solar Expo took place May 16 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Michael Allen joined other solar industry professionals to hear the latest in developments in our neighboring state. Jigar Shah (founder of SunEdison and CEO of the Carbon War Room) gave the keynote speech. Mr. Shah is also the author of “Creating Climate Wealth: Unlocking the Impact Economy”, a combination of memoir and guide to solar business principles. Mr. Shah discussed how local solar installers can survive by leveraging their ability to target local markets and their marketing advantages in local solar projects. He offered advice on how to compete effectively, bringing down soft costs, developing customer relationships to promote cross sales, and the future of federal and state solar policy.
Leadership Sun Prairie Graduation
Paralegal Colleen Wenos graduated from Leadership Sun Prairie Class XVII on May 21. The group was started in 1997 by a group of business professionals, including Michael Allen, and Colleen recaptured some of her experiences on this blog. The class project, developing bike map kiosks for Carriage Hills Estates, Orfan and West Sheehan parks in Sun Prairie, will be installed later this summer.
Sun Prairie High School DECA Awards Banquet
Energy Law Wisconsin is a business partner for Sun Prairie High School’s DECA chapter, and Michael Allen spoke on the subject entrepreneurship at the June 4 year-end lunch banquet at Sun Prairie High School. He drew on his own experience as an “accidental entrepreneur”, setting up a law firm after 20 years in large law firms and on his experience working closely with startup companies, including Idle Free Systems, a maker of fuel saving idle elimination systems in Watertown, Wisconsin.
Written on June 17, 2014 at 3:06 pm, by Colleen Wenos
In Honor of President’s Day…
In belated honor of President’s Day, we offer you a quiz to test your presidential (and vice presidential) energy IQ by posing a few trivia questions. These questions ask which Presidents/Vice Presidents made notable statements about energy issues or signed into law legislation or made decisions that have garnered considerable interest in the media.
1. Solyndra. The loan to Solyndra, solar PV manufacturer, was made under a legislative program that:
a. Was signed into law by President Obama, with the interim and final decisions made by officials in the Obama Administration.
b. Was signed into law by President George W. Bush, with Solyndra’s loan application rejected by Bush Administration officials, than resurrected from the reject pile and approved by Obama Administration officials.
c. Was signed into law under President George W. Bush, conditionally approved by Bush Administration officials, with the final decision made by Obama Administration officials.
2. Global Warming. What Vice Presidential Candidate made the following statement during the Vice Presidential Debate: “The Greenhouse Effect is an important environmental issue. … we need to get on with it and … you can be sure we will.”
a. Dan Quayle (Bush Administration)
b. Lloyd Bentsen (Dukakis Administration)
c. George H.W. Bush (Reagan Administration)
d. Al Gore (Clinton Administration)
3. Goodbye Incandescent Bulbs! Which president signed into law the legislation that has raised energy efficiency standards and has effectively removed the heat-generating incandescent bulb from the shelves of stores?
a. Bill Clinton
b. George W. Bush
c. Barack Obama
d. George H.W. Bush
ANSWERS: 1.c; 2.a.; 3.b.
Apart from honoring President’s Day belatedly, what is the point of this quiz? Simply, to offer a friendly reminder that energy and energy efficiency policy is a long-term process, with progress milestones and positions not necessarily tied to political stereotypes, or even remotely related to the spin the political commentators subsequently put upon them.
Written on February 26, 2014 at 2:59 pm, by Energy Law Wisconsin
Farm Technology Days – It Takes a Village to Build a City
Wisconsin Farm Technology Days 2015 (FTD) will be in my home community of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, so when my good friend and forward-thinking farmer Jamie Derr of Solarmass, LLC asked me if I would serve on the Utilities Committee for this event, I readily agreed. Based upon my past committee service, I assumed I would be attending a few meetings, perhaps making a few introductions to people in the energy community, and maybe thinking up a creative demonstration or two relating to distributed generation in agriculture. Well – not exactly.
It turns out that Farm Technology Days is the equivalent of building a city for 30,000-50,000 visitors who will inhabit the host area over a three day period to demonstrate and view the latest and greatest in farm technology. To make the event the best it can be requires reliable support with electric service, wireless internet and cell phone service. This task is made more challenging by the fact that the Farm Technology Days site is typically hosted on a farm (in 2015, the Statz Family have graciously agreed to host) and located a significant distance away from the closest electric interconnection points and cellular and wireless towers.
Fortunately, the folks who organize Farm Technology Days have the organizational process down to a science, as demonstrated by the impressive gathering of more than 100 people this past December to share lessons learned from the event in Barron County on August 2013 and plan upcoming and future Farm Technology Days on August 12-14, August 12-14, 2014 in Portage County at Blue Top Farms and Feltz Family Farms and at the Statz Farm in August, 2015. We gathered to discuss discuss and troubleshoot issues necessary to make the event a success. We are also fortunate to have experienced electrical and wireless contractors to support us in our efforts.
Even so, the 2015 event will require a lot of hands-on attention from people who know far more than I do about providing utility service (as opposed to understanding the legal basis and contracts for utility service). If there is anyone out there who reads this and is interested in joining the Farm Days 2015 Utilities Committee, drop me a line. We’d be glad to welcome you to our “Village”.
Written on January 23, 2014 at 11:11 am, by Michael Allen
Soccket to Me!
With apologies to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In for the title above (and apologies to any of you under the age of 45 who won’t get this 1960s television reference, see here), our office was fortunate enough to receive earlier this month two Socckets (pictured here) from the first shipment of this invention to the general public. The Soccket is essentially a soccer ball with an internal induction coil that converts kinetic energy generated by kicking the ball into stored electric energy that can be used to power a reading lamp. Its intended users are the 25% of children in the world who love soccer but lack access to electricity at home for activities we take for granted, such as reading their homework at night. The story of the development of the Soccket is a great story of creativity and entrepreneurship. Here is a link to more information about this story provided by Jessica Mathews, one of the co-inventors of the Soccket.
Our first experience with the Soccket was very positive. It couldn’t be easier to assemble and use – all you do is kick it, and then plug in the light when you are ready. In addition, we were amazed to see that one of the Socckets greatly out-performed the officially-promised performance of three hours LED reading light from 15 minutes of kicking use. After only two or three minutes of kicking the Soccket around the confines of my small law office, I plugged in the light and, more than 24 hours later – it is still shining!
In addition, I took a Soccket to the RENEW Energy Policy Summit last Friday as a show and tell exhibit for crowdfunding, which financed part of the development of the Soccket. It got a very positive reaction. I think this is because the Soccket is a great ambassador for the renewable energy community for at least two reasons.
First, it shows what can be accomplished through the ingenuity of a handful of dedicated people. More importantly, Uncharted Play has figured out a way to make renewable electricity through joyful activity. This is a winning combination.
Written on January 16, 2014 at 3:22 pm, by Michael Allen
Time Sure Flies! Energy Law Wisconsin Celebrates 10th Anniversary in Business
Energy Law Wisconsin celebrated its 10th Anniversary in business on January 1, 2014. For the past decade, we’ve pursued our passion by offering advice on energy development and financing, including solar, wind, cogeneration, biomass, biogas and natural gas projects, and worked with schools, utilities and municipalities on energy savings projects. We’ve helped start-up companies grow, helped mature businesses stay on course, and in our spare time assisted with real estate transactions. We are grateful for the support of the local and professional communities in which we reside and have attempted to give back to them whenever possible. We’ve hired legal interns to give them a chance to be exposed to the world of energy law. Our first paralegal, Colleen Wenos, hired in 2011, is now actively involved in the Sun Prairie Leadership Program. We have also served for years on the Boards of Directors of organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce, RENEW Wisconsin and the Sun Prairie Library Foundation. We are the richer for these experiences.
Somehow in the midst of all of this excitement (or perhaps because of it), we neglected to put up a street sign for our business to let friends and clients know where we are. To celebrate our 10th Anniversary, we have finally, to paraphrase astronaut Neil Armstrong, taken “one small step” by putting up a sign on Main Street, shown above. We invite you to celebrate our 10th Anniversary with us by following our Energy Law Wisconsin LinkedIn page, which will allow you to join us as we publish periodic reports on timely energy news topics and other relevant legal and business information. You will not receive e-mails from us, but directly through LinkedIn’s notification program. Linking is simple:
- With an existing LinkedIn account, visit http://www.linkedin.com/company/energy-law-wisconsin. Log in and click “Follow Company”.
- As a new user, visit http://www.linkedin.com/company/energy-law-wisconsin and click the yellow button at the upper right, “Join Now”. After you’ve established an individual profile, you’ll be able to “Follow Company”.
We thank you for your support during the last 10 years.
Written on January 9, 2014 at 10:01 am, by Colleen Wenos
New Options for Investing in Renewable Energy and Clean Infrastructure
Note: Although this entry discusses emerging investment opportunities, it is not intended as and should not be misunderstood as investment advice or a recommendation for any particular investment.
I have been trying for some time to write an ELW blog entry about the rapid emergence of new and varied options for investors, large and small, to invest in renewable energy and other sustainable infrastructure development. Unfortunately, every time I update my draft, the marketplace advances and I have to edit it again. To ensure that I actually post something before I retire, I have decided to take a short cut and use this entry to introduce you to several emerging investment models that are becoming available, but I will draw on the work of others, when it is more current than my own.
According to one of the panelists at the recent GTM Solar Market Insight Conference, roughly 25% of U.S rooftops are suitable for standard solar. This leaves the owners of 75% of US roofs unable to host this type of solar energy system. However, the owners of the other 75% could still participate in the solar energy through one or more of the following emerging investment options:
Community Funding and Crowdsourcing. A helpful article on several of the leaders in this area can be found here: Democratizing Solar Power With Community Funding. I am familiar with the account interface and statements for one of the companies in the article, Solar Mosaic, who issues solar notes to persons who invest in its solar projects. The Solar Mosaic system is user friendly and it is about as straightforward and easy to invest in and track an investment made in Solar Mosaic as it is to make an investment in and track the performance of a typical mutual fund. Any prospective investor should be sure to carefully read the prospectus for any project they wish to invest in to adequately understand the risks. Solar Mosaic’s solar notes are available in increments as small as $25. However, they are currently available only to investors in California and accredited investors elsewhere, but Solar Mosaic has indicated it has plans to expand.
Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure’s REIT. Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital, Inc. provides debt and equity financing for what it refers to as “sustainable infrastructure projects”, which include energy efficiency projects, clean energy projects (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and natural gas projects), and other sustainable infrastructure projects that reduce energy consumption, positively impact the environment or make more efficient use of natural resources.
Hannon Armstrong (NYSE Ticker Symbol HASI) is able to operate as a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) because in financing its sustainable infrastructure projects its owns and operates income producing real estate or real estate-related assets. So long as a REIT complies with applicable Internal Revenue Code requirements, it is able to avoid the double taxation treatment to which publicly traded corporations are subject. HASI shares went public at $12.50 a share in April of this year and as of the date this entry was posted were trading at close to that price and paying a dividend of approximately 4.5%.
Yield Cos. A “Yield Co” is a publicly-traded company that is formed to own operating assets that produce cash flow. The cash is distributed to investors as dividends. The Chabourne & Parke LLP law firm has recently come out with an excellent article profiling several Yield Cos that have already gone public or about to do so, including one that I was preparing to write about. The article, by attorney Keith Martin, who is a nationally respected authority on renewable energy development and finance, starts on page 7.
Renewable Energy MLPs around the Corner? For several years, members of the U.S. Congress have proposed legislation that would put renewables on equal footing with oil and gas investments in one important respect, by giving developers of renewables the opportunity to utilize the Master Limited Partnership (MLP). The MLP is an investment vehicle that offers the tax advantages of a partnership combined with the ease of trading advantages of a publicly traded corporation. More information about the proposed MLP Parity Act is available from the website of Senator Christopher Coons, who has been a champion of such legislation. When the MLP was made available for use by the oil & gas industry, it resulted in a tremendous influx of capital into that industry. The proponents of the MLP Parity Act hope it will have the same effect on the renewables industry.
Finally, a word of caution. Just because an investment is easy to make, doesn’t mean it is prudent. All of the investment options discussed in this post involve risk. Anyone who is interested in exploring them should be just as careful doing their research before invest as they would be (or they ought to be) when investing elsewhere. This includes, among other things, reading the latest financials and the prospectus that was prepared in connection with the investment offering.
Written on December 17, 2013 at 11:48 am, by Michael Allen
Allen Appointed to Wisconsin Bioenergy Council
In October 2013, Michael Allen, owner and founder of Energy Law Wisconsin, was appointed to the Wisconsin Bioenergy Council by Ben Brancel, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection. The Bioenergy Council was created in 2009 to bring together representatives from varied backgrounds and expertise with an interest in biomass and biofuels to establish best practices for fuel production and make other recommendations to the DATCP Secretary. The Bioenergy Council’s meetings are open to the public, and persons wishing to participate should contact Mr. Allen or visit the Bioenergy Council’s webpage. Mr. Allen will serve a three year term on the Council.
Written on November 25, 2013 at 2:47 pm, by Energy Law Wisconsin
ELW in the Community: Paralegal Notes from Leadership Sun Prairie
[This entry was written by Colleen Wenos, describing her initial experiences in the 2013-2014 Leadership Sun Prairie Program.]
Continuing education is a big part of staying up to date, both inside and outside the world of law, so when I heard about the Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce’s networking group Leadership Sun Prairie, I jumped to apply. Leadership Sun Prairie was created in the mid-1990s to develop future business leaders and promote positive community development in Sun Prairie. Energy Law Wisconsin’s owner, Michael Allen, was part of the team that developed the program.
This year’s crop of 15 professionals, Class XVII, is culled from Sun Prairie businesses and organizations. At each session (one per month September through May), participants concentrate their efforts and learn in depth about a specific sector of the community, with tours, field trips and speakers. For example, while September provided ice breakers and an overview of community involvement information, October gave me a wealth of information on community volunteer needs and opportunities to make a difference, including helping at Sunshine Place, the Red Barn, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, the Colonial Club, and Shelter from the Storm Ministries.
One of the valuable aspects of Leadership Sun Prairie to me is that the other participants and myself are challenged by having to try new things and take on responsibilities with little or no prior notice. I’ve spontaneously delivered meals to seniors and have been given only 15 minutes to create a news segment that was recorded for Sun Prairie’s Community Access Channel KSUN at the Sun Prairie Media Center . Even longtime Sun Prairie residents will learn something new in Leadership Sun Prairie’s comprehensive look at the city, and with themes like health & wellness, education, business and government coming up, there’s more in store!
Energy Law Wisconsin and I would like to thank Wisconsin Distributors, the Colonial Club and Sun Prairie Utilities for meeting space in 2013 and to thank all businesses and organizations who donated their time, resources and people to make it a richly rewarding program. Chris Mertes, Sun Prairie Star Managing Editor, chimes in about his speaking opportunity here.
Written on November 25, 2013 at 12:33 pm, by Colleen Wenos
Summer Tip: A Word of Caution Regarding Vacation Homes on Private Roads
Required Formal Disclaimer: Since this entry involves some discussion of legal principles, there is at least a theoretical possibility that one of you out there may read this blog entry and conclude that: (a) you and I have entered into an attorney client relationship; or (b) I am offering you specific legal advice for your specific legal situation. In the unlikely event you reach either conclusion, I must inform you that sadly, it is not true. Persons accessing this site are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.
This blog most often addresses energy issues, particularly in Wisconsin. However, the summer weather and a client’s recent real estate deal have brought to my attention a concern that is increasingly likely to be encountered by people who own or wish to purchase a home in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and similar rural locations.
If you own a home on private road that is not maintained by the local municipality, you need to check in the real estate records to see whether there is an enforceable maintenance agreement binding current and future owners of homes served by the road. If the answer to this question is “No”, you could find yourself in a bind when it comes time to sell your property.
Fannie Mae, the federal residential mortgage underwriting agency, clarified its underwriting guidelines in 2008 with respect to homes located on a community-owned or privately-owned and maintained street. See Fannie Mae Announcement 08-01 (January 31, 2008). In this announcement, Fannie Mae stated:
“If the property is located on a community-owned or privately-owned and maintained street, Fannie Mae will now require one of the following:
1. An adequate, legally enforceable agreement or covenant for maintenance of the street. The agreement or covenant should include the following provisions and be recorded in the land records of the appropriate jurisdiction:
- Responsibility for payment of repairs, including each party’s representative share;
- Default remedies in the event a party to the agreement or covenant fails to comply with his or her obligations; and
- The effective term of the agreement or covenant, which in most cases should be perpetual and binding on any future owners.
If the property is located within a state that has statutory provisions that define the responsibilities of property owners for the maintenance and repair of a private street, no separate agreement or covenant is required.
2. If the property is not located in a state that imposes statutory requirements for maintenance, and either there is no agreement or covenant for maintenance of the street, or an agreement or covenant exists but does not meet the requirements listed above, the lender must indemnify Fannie Mae for any losses or expenses it may incur due to the physical condition of the street or in order to establish and/or retain access thereto. Announcement 08-01, page 4.
Although this policy has been in place for several years, vacation home buyers and sellers are increasingly bumping into it as we emerge from the recent recession. The impact is that prospective purchasers of homes served by private roads may not be able to obtain financing and owners of such homes may have a difficult time selling them to anyone who requires financing to complete the purchase.
Freddie Mac has not yet adopted such a requirement, but several mortgage professionals my client spoke to have indicated that that it is only a matter of time until Freddie Mac adopts the same policy.
The solution to this problem is for the homeowners who share the private roadway to enter into a legally enforceable maintenance agreement, which obligates them and their successors. This type of a document is not particularly difficult to prepare, but it can be a chore to get it signed by all the right people on the spur of the moment. Existing homeowners who don’t have any immediate plans to sell may be apprehensive about agreeing to an unknown amount of future maintenance expense. It can take time to get everyone on board.
The bottom line is that buyers looking at vacation homes need to make road access issues part of their due diligence and offers to purchase. Persons who own vacation homes served by private roads need to find out where they stand, so that, if possible, they can take the necessary steps to make their property saleable to someone who needs bank financing.
Written on July 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm, by Energy Law Wisconsin