Energy Law Wisconsin Blog

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ELW in the Community – Spring Happenings

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

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.

Farm Technology Days – It Takes a Village to Build a City

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

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”.

Time Sure Flies! Energy Law Wisconsin Celebrates 10th Anniversary in Business

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

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 Log in and click “Follow Company”.

– As a new user, visit 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.

Allen Appointed to Wisconsin Bioenergy Council

Monday, November 25th, 2013

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.

ELW in the Community: Paralegal Notes from Leadership Sun Prairie

Monday, November 25th, 2013

[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.

Summer Tip: A Word of Caution Regarding Vacation Homes on Private Roads

Friday, July 12th, 2013

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.

ELW in the Community: Supporting Local Library’s Book N It Run/Walk

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

On August 4, 2012 the entire Energy Law Wisconsin family joined the Sun Prairie Public Library Foundation‘s 9th annual fundraising Book N It Run/Walk. The team expended its own energy 3.2 miles for this good cause, complete with two children and an antiquated stroller. Energy Law Wisconsin has long supported the Sun Prairie Public Library, going back to the late 1990s, when Attorney Michael Allen served on the library’s Board of Trustees in the 1990s and worked on many of the Foundation’s formative legal documents. The Foundation reported its biggest turnout ever for the event, which is great news, as past proceeds have funded displays in the children’s Early Literacy area and the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) project (immediate book check-in software). Energy Law’s youngest reader, Isaac, enjoyed meeting Sun Prairie’s mascots and shared this hug with the “Book N It Guy”. Our calendar is already marked for next year’s event, on Saturday, August 3, 2013.



ELW in the Community: Speedskater Luke Tweddale – A Different Kind of Energy

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Photo credit: Mike Bernico

With the 2012 Summer Olympics in full swing, we’d like to depart from our usual practice of profiling recent developments in the world of energy resources and focus on a different type of energy: the energy of an aspiring Olympic athlete. No one typifies this type of energy better locally than 18 year old long track speedskater Luke Tweddale of Madison, Wisconsin. Luke last represented the U.S. at the Junior World Championships in Obhiro, Japan in March 2012. Energy Law Wisconsin has been a proud sponsor of Luke’s training and competitive efforts for several years now.

We thought it would be fascinating to gain some insight into the “personal energy” that an athlete like Luke brings to his pre-Olympic journey. So we posed Luke a few questions, which he was kind enough to answer.

What motivates and inspires you to put in the long hours of work necessary to become a competitive long track speedskater at the international level? What is your ultimate goal?

Well, as far as motivation, nothing gives me more fuel to keep going than skating a great race. My motivation comes from a desire to make every race a great one, or at least make the spaces between those good races significantly shorter.  My ultimate goal is to represent my country in the Olympics. I can imagine no greater honor than carrying the pride of this great nation into the Olympic Stadium alongside my teammates.

You’ve been training for a number of years now and have also had the opportunity to interact with many outstanding speedskaters, including Olympic medalists like Casey FitzRandolph and Shani Davis. Are there any particular characteristics that you have experienced or observed that are critical to becoming competitive and, equally important, to keeping balanced, through the process of training and competition?

Absolutely.  There are two modern speedskaters who come to mind as shining examples of attributes I wish to have for myself. The first is Jilleanne Rookard, 2010 member of our Olympic Long Track Team. In 2009, few people outside of Milwaukee knew the extent of her abilities, and she had faced some considerable challenges to pursuing her dream.  She excels because she has the courage of utter conviction.

The second skater is John Richard “JR” Celski, 2010 Short Track Olympian. JR was up against the most celebrated American short track speedskater, Apolo Anton Ohno, at the 2008 World Team Championships in Vienna, Austria. JR had just made his first senior World Team, and was very new to the arena. He not only swept Apolo, but became third overall in the world, behind two Korean skaters who are some of the most talented skaters in history. He was only 20 at the time. In addition, at the 2010 Olympic Trials, JR sustained a catastrophic injury during the quarterfinals of the 500-meter, in which he cut his entire upper leg open, right on the all-important quad muscle. However, he skated to bronze in the Olympics a mere five months later. That kind of recovery can only be attributed to an unbreakable spirit.

With the Summer Olympics in progress, are there any athletes or teams from the 2012 U.S. squad that you find particularly inspiring?

Missy Franklin, a swimmer and world record holder, is the personification of not only a great Olympic athlete, but a great human being.  From everything I’ve heard and seen, Missy seems grounded, modest, kind, and most impressively, surprisingly carefree for such a serious athlete. Add to that the fact that she’s only 17 and the only word for her is unique. The way her parents put it is that she’s a normal teenager who just happens to have a gift for swimming. That’s how I want to be, not just a skater, but someone worthy of note beyond the 17-day period of the Olympiad.

What are the lessons you’ve learned from your speedskating career to date that you think you will carry with you the rest of your life, regardless of whether you continue to skate for many years or turn your attention to something else?

One important lesson that I have learned is how to be committed to something and to see it through to the end. Every time I finish a race, even if it wasn’t a terribly good one, I can say, “I saw that race through, and I didn’t give up.” It’s a great approach to life.

Another hard lesson I’ve learned is that, since so much of life nowadays, both in professional and sporting careers, is results-oriented, if you don’t produce, you’re labeled as not very valuable or noteworthy, regardless of your other attributes. It’s easy to feel like you’re only as good as your list of achievements, but that has never been my philosophy, even when I’m pursuing a specific goal like skating a perfect 500-meter sprint. The thing is, in 15 years, no one will care that you won a medal in the National Championships or even in the Olympics. You’ll be judged on your personal attributes, which endure forever, not on your fastest times, which you can usually only skate once or twice in a relatively short period of your life.

What question would you like to be asked that you have never been asked? How would you answer it?

I’m rarely asked about the series of steps that have led up to where I am now, or the series of steps that will hopefully lead me to the Olympics in the future.  I also notice that most interviewers never ask Olympians this question, probably because the answer can’t be condensed into a sound bite.  The public only sees these athletes once every four years and focuses on their brief performances. However, what we see during the Olympics is not remotely representative of the full effort it takes to compete at that level.  I like to use the metaphor of the 10,000-hour rule, which is generally how long it takes to become a true expert at something. You do it and do it and do it until you have it down perfectly. There are numerous training sessions, some brutal, some boring, some fun. If you take all that training, mix in some mental preparation, a big dose of family support, and good old-fashioned hard-headedness, then you are ready to perform for a few blissful (or catastrophic) moments at the Olympics. The process is methodical, measured, and concerted.

Too often, I feel that athletes are only judged solely on the basis of a single performance, which you see in a vacuum during a time of extremely high stress which is not conducive to the highest performance that an athlete can achieve, and which is not indicative of that long and laborious process. Because the Olympics are so popular, it is an unavoidable fact that a lot of people, coaches, media, family, and the public put athletes under tremendous pressure to win when the whole world is watching. We devote our lives to our sports, sometimes for decades, and those long years of effort should be appreciated and recognized more.

If people are interested in learning more about and/or supporting the efforts of you and other hardworking U.S. speedskaters, where can they look to follow and/or support all of you?

There are several great ways to support us, but one thing we all appreciate is an enthusiastic crowd! Please come to the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee on November 2, 3, and 4, and cheer for the top U.S. long track speedskaters during the World Cup Qualifier and American Cup 1 competition, which is usually free of charge to spectators.  Better yet, put on some skates yourself!  Visit the Pettit website above, or the website of your local ice arena for public skating times and costs.  Finally, we send out a monthly email update on my progress during the skating season – feel free to send a message to Dad at and ask to be added to our mailing list.

Energy Law Wisconsin wishes Luke the best in his future endeavors. We’ll be watching his upcoming races with interest!

Idle Free Systems Announces Electric APU Pairing with Volvo

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Energy Law Wisconsin feels a little like a proud parent (or at least, uncle) when an early stage company that we represented appears in the news. Idle Free Systems, Inc. is a company passionate about clean-running trucks that we have known since the days it was a hard-working truck driver with little more than a patent and a big dream. The company recently announced another milestone of success: New Volvo sleeper trucks now have the option to add on Idle Free Systems’ electric APU. This is big news because it adds Volvo to Mack Trucks and the growing list of Idle Free distributors who have tested the Idle Free APU and like what they see.

Customers can purchase the Idle Free APU system directly from any Volvo dealer and it will be integrated with the truck. The APU system,  running on alternating current, can create heat and air conditioning without relying on the truck’s starter batteries, and the truck does not need a  separate bunk air heater, an electric block heater or a factory inverter. The Idle Free APUs are available through the Volvo New Vehicle Option Center in Dublin, Virginia or directly from your nearest Volvo sleeper truck dealer. For more information, check out this green Wisconsin innovator at

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Janesville Gazette Profiles ELW Client Jim Erickson

Monday, September 26th, 2011

At Energy Law Wisconsin, we enjoy what we do, but there are some clients in particular who make it fun. Jim Erickson of Antech Properties LLC is one of them. Erickson, 83 years young, decided last year to install a solar energy system on his commercial office building in the Janesville, Wisconsin area. Why? Because it was smart, a good fit and last but not least, fun.


Energy Law Wisconsin appreciates the opportunity to have been of service to Mr. Erickson in this endeavor. In a recent article for the Janesville Gazette, Erickson was profiled about his property and the successful savings he is having with it. The building is included in the 2011 Wisconsin Solar Tour event, occurring on Saturday, October 1.

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