Energy Law Wisconsin Blog

Notes from the Focus on Energy Trade Ally Expo

There has been a great deal of excitement (and controversy) in the past year over Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program. Issues receiving attention include funding levels, allocation of resources between energy efficiency versus renewables and the processing of applications. I’d like to provide a brief report from a program I attended on May 15, 2012, the first Focus on Energy Trade Ally Expo, held at Crowne Plaza Hotel Madison in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Expo focused entirely on energy efficiency incentives, other than a quick mention that new renewable incentives for residential owners will become available on July 1, 2012. Specific bits of information I jotted down that may be of interest include the following:

TRADE ALLY BENEFITS

– Anyone who wants to be a Trade Ally must apply here even if you were previously working with Focus on Energy as a Trade Ally.

– The Focus on Energy program is in the process of creating Trade Ally working groups through which it will obtain feedback about
its programs. If you want to be part of such a group, now is the time to express interest.

– According to the Focus on Energy reps I spoke with, all investor-owned utilities, all municipal utilities, and most Wisconsin co-ops are now in the Focus on Energy program. At this point, there are only a handful of cooperatives in the northwestern corner of the state that are not participating in the program.

– Focus on Energy is offering bonuses to Trade Allies for submitting complete and accurate applications for incentives. These completion bonuses go to the trade allies, not the customers. In other words, if you complete your application accurately and fully the first time, you can get a cash bonus that is yours to keep. Until June 30, these rules governing these application bonuses will allow the applicant to correct and re-submit the application. After July 1, you must do it properly the first time around.

– Focus on Energy will have a community outreach program. Its contours are not fully defined yet, but Focus on Energy representatives will make themselves available to meet with large energy users, eligible customers (such as condominium associations) and perhaps even community groups.

INCENTIVES CATEGORIES

Within the incentives there are several categories that are noteworthy:

Chain Stores and Franchises. This program focuses on owners of retail establishments that have five or more facilities in the State of Wisconsin. The stated Focus goal is to leverage a connection with one or two key decision makers in the business that make energy efficiency decisions for multiple facilities across the state. The eventual goal is to make Wisconsin a blueprint for the entire nation in demand-side management.

Large Energy Customers.This Focus on Energy incentive program is aimed at energy-users who have an energy demand of at least 1,000 kw of electricity per month or a demand of at least 10,000 decatherms of natural gas per month or a combined electric bill of $60,000 per month in one utility’s service territory. Note: If you have a combined utility bill of $60,000 in multiple electric utility service territories, you would not qualify, but you would be eligible for the business incentives program. Typical Large Energy Customers would be pulp and paper mills, metal casters, food processors, hospitals, universities, ethanol biofuel and biomass producers, water and wastewater facilities.

Business Incentive Program. This program serves business customers that are not served by the Large Energy Users or Chain Stores and Franchises program. It includes agricultural facilities, schools and governmental buildings, small industrial users, commercial space, and independent groceries and retailers. A typical Business Incentive Program customer would have electric demand of 100-1,000 kw
per month.

Multi-Family Energy Savings Program. This program is eligible to multi-family residence owners with four units and above. It includes apartment buildings and may include condominiums. Condominiums are included if they are interested in reducing energy demand in the common areas or if four or more users gather together to make energy-efficiency improvements. If a single condo unit owner wishes to make an improvement, that unit owner would be directed to the Residential Incentives Program.

Residential Incentives Program. There are two programs available to owners of 1-3 unit homes: Home Performance With Energy Star® and Assisted Home Performance with Energy Star®. The Assisted Home Performance with Energy Star® program offers increased awards for households with income between 60-80% of the State Median Income.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Persons who are eligible for the current categories of programs could benefit greatly. The Focus on Energy Trade Ally Expo is traveling Wisconsin in May to spread the news:

Thursday, May 17 – Rothschild

Friday, May 18 – Onalaska

Tuesday, May 22 – Brookfield

Wednesday, May 23 – Kimberly

Thursday, May 24 – Eau Claire

Also, you can find Focus on Energy at the Wisconsin Association of School Board Officials Meeting in Wisconsin Dells May 22-25 and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association Energy Fair June 15-17.

Written on May 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm, by Michael Allen

Natural Gas: Why You Should Take an Interest in Recent Developments

In recent months, natural gas has received more media attention than any time I can remember.  Based upon my own research and my recent participation in the first Wisconsin Natural Gas for Transportation Roundtable, held in Madison, Wisconsin on April 25, 2012, I believe this increased attention  is not only well-deserved, it may actually be insufficient.

Technology innovations have led to a fundamental change in the economics of the production of natural gas from shale deposits.  This change in natural gas economics, in turn is fueling (pardon the pun) accelerating economic, regulatory and infrastructure developments whose effects will be widespread.

Some of the areas that are undergoing drastic change in the evolving world of natural gas production include:
– Natural Gas Pricing

– Renewable Energy Development

– Environmental Quality

– Energy Regulations

– Natural Gas Transport Infrastructure

These very significant changes are too much to cover in a single blog post. I will attempt, through a series of upcoming posts, to address, in bite-sized pieces, some of the critical issues. Today, I will begin with the apparently fundamental change in the in the available supply and price of natural gas in the United States.

 

Natural Gas Production – Then & Now

If you were to turn the clock back to 2005 and look at the headlines about natural gas production, you would find articles lamenting the natural gas crisis. The prevailing wisdom was that natural gas production in the United States had peaked and was on the decline, leaving the country facing a supply shortage that many claimed to not be going away anytime soon. For example, the Alliance to Save Energy urged Congress to adopt energy efficiency measures to deal with the crisis (See here).

The cry went out to find new sources of natural gas, with potential solutions including increasing offshore drilling in places likely to produce natural gas and importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from overseas. The importation process would require natural gas from other parts of the world to be cooled to a liquid state, brought to the United States, warmed up and put in domestic natural gas pipelines.

If you turn the clock forward to 2012, however, the headlines broadcast a crisis of another variety – a crisis of oversupply.   For example, a CNBC interview with a commodities expert who ran a hedge fund that specializes in energy-related investments was titled “Who Will Survive the Natural Gas Oversupply?”  The story claimed, in language that echoes the language of 2005, that the current natural gas oversupply conditions in the United States will not go away anytime soon.

Low Cost, High Supply Affects Global Economy

Headlines are one thing, but prices and actual projects under development are another.  Based on the latter, it cannot be denied that the U.S. natural gas supply picture has changed radically in less than ten years. Natural gas futures contracts which reached an historic high at
$15.35/MMBTU in late 2005 are now priced at approximately $2/MMBTU.  As far as projects go, the industry has gone from developing terminals designed to receive imports of LNG to seeking permits for terminals established for the purpose of exporting LNG.

Many people are convinced that the low cost, high supply scenario for natural gas is here to stay at least for many years.  Their optimism is based not only on today’s numbers, but also their confidence that the U.S. is only tapping the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shale gas supply.  Others, including some who have been in the utility industry for decades and have seen ups and downs in the natural gas supply, aren’t so sure. Still others believe one or more of the following factors may throw a monkey wrench into the high supply, low cost natural gas scenario:

– Environmental and liability concerns, including the environmental impact from fracking, climate change impact of higher natural gas use, and even earthquakes claimed to be caused by shale gas exploration.

– High increased demand will drive up price due to wholesale electric generation industry switching away from coal, nuclear and renewables to natural gas.

– Increased demand from China, India and the developing world will drive up the price.

– Infrastructure and transport limitations.

At this point, you may be thinking, “This is all very interesting, but I do not live on the coasts where the LNG terminals will be located, so what does any of this have to do with me?” After attending the Wisconsin Natural Gas for Transport Roundtable, I am convinced that Wisconsin will have a birds’ eye view of watching the birth of a new natural gas infrastructure, particularly for transport, and will have all the opportunities and growing pains associated with such an industry.

I’ll talk more about this and some of the impacts and risks associated with this developing industry in future posts.

Written on April 27, 2012 at 2:07 pm, by Michael Allen

Idle Free Systems Announces Electric APU Pairing with Volvo

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 http://idlefreesystems.com/.

Written on March 14, 2012 at 10:21 am, by Energy Law Wisconsin

Photosynthesis vs. Photovoltaics

When Urban Foresters Meet Wisconsin’s Solar Access Law

Questions about solar access and urban forestry conflicts are becoming increasingly frequent in my renewable energy practice. After going through 20 years with no calls regarding such conflicts, I have encountered five such conflicts since the start of 2011. Conflicts arise because trees and solar energy systems are competing for the same resource – access to the sun. But the needs of trees and solar energy systems can be harmonized if appropriate planning and legal systems are in place.

On January 31, at the 2012 Wisconsin Arborist Association/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Annual Conference in Green Bay, I dove further into this subject. My presentation was entitled “Solar Access and Urban Forestry in Wisconsin: Laws, Conflicts and Potential Solutions.” The audience primarily comprised of urban forestry professionals and state and local governmental officials. It included the City Forester for the City of Madison, the City of Milwaukee, the City of Oak Creek, and others. They asked very good questions, and some audience members had encountered these conflicts in their professional experiences.

Competing interests of urban forestry and solar energy development can, on occasion, lead to conflict. Shading of solar energy systems has a different impact on solar photovoltaic (PV) systems than it does on solar thermal (aka, solar hot water) systems. The adverse impact on PV systems is much more severe, but both can be significantly impacted by shading.

Wisconsin’s solar and wind access laws are quite comprehensive and probably the most protective of solar access of any such state laws in the entire country. Some members of the audience were surprised to learn that “vegetative growth that occurs” and impairs solar access to a solar energy system, can be considered a “private nuisance,” even if the growth occurs after the solar energy system is installed. There is no automatic grandfathering for trees that are planted first.

Solar-Tree conflicts can create specific problems that affect the day-to-day job functions of Urban Foresters, including:

– Reconciling their municipality’s mixed policy messages – promoting energy efficiency gained from tree shading while simultaneously promoting renewable energy generation from solar energy systems.

– The difficulty of performing their jobs without making somebody upset – in complying with the solar access law, they may be creating unhappy neighbors who don’t want their favorite local tree to be pruned.

– The difficulty of picking appropriate trees for medians and rights-of-way, knowing that those trees may or may not be someday be adjacent to solar energy systems.

– Knowing what to do if a mature tree that shades an area desirable for solar has to be removed due to disease and replaced by another healthy tree. Does the replacement forfeit any pre-existing “growth rights” that its predecessor may have had?

Don’t despair – Potential solutions exist that can enable sensible urban forestry policy and sensible solar energy promotion to live side-by-side. Potential solutions for mitigating current conflicts include:

– Better-coordinated urban planning

– Using planning software that minimizes solar-tree conflict by providing relevant data reflecting growth and shading

– Community education and local solar advisory committees

– Borrowing from innovative local ordinances in other states

– Possibly making modest changes to the Wisconsin solar access law to better accommodate urban forestry concerns

The best solution will protect investments in both solar energy systems and trees and offer predictability and certainty in the planning process. A copy of the slides from the presentation is available here: WAA Annual Conference Presentation (1-30-12 Final.pdf)

Written on February 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm, by Michael Allen

Finish 2011 on Target (Part 2)

Last Minute Solar Projects Need to Be Aware of Critical Treasury Department Guidance

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.

In Part 1 of this topic, I discussed the Treasury Department’s guidance on whether the applicant for a Section 1603 Payment has “begun construction” in 2011.  In Part 2, I will focus on Treasury guidance recently issued on how the Treasury Department evaluates Section 1603
applications for solar photovoltaic (aka PV or solar electric) projects.

Treasury Guidance Regarding Solar Electric costs

The Treasury Department recently published guidance titled “Evaluating Cost Basis for Solar Photovoltaic Properties” (referred to in this post as “The PV Cost Guidance”) indicating how it will evaluate the claimed cost basis for solar PV projects applications for Section 1603 payments to reimburse eligible costs of solar electric projects. The PV Cost Guidance establishes benchmarks for average costs per
watt for solar PV projects. The guidance includes the following table:

 

Residential

Residential/

Small Commercial

 Commercial

Large Commercial/

Utility

Size Range < 10 kW     10 – 100 kW 100 – 1000 kW           > 1 MW
Typical Size 5 kW

25 kW

250 kW

2 MW

Turnkey Price per W +/- $7

+/- $6

+/- $5

+/- $4

 

The PV Cost Guidance indicates that solar electric projects whose claimed cost basis exceeds the benchmarks above will receive closer scrutiny. This doesn’t necessarily mean that costs above the benchmarks will be disqualified. However, there must be a good reason for applicants to exceed the benchmarks.

Finally, Treasury guidance discloses that Treasury views certain other types of situations, including related party transactions (i.e. where two parties in the project are related to one another) as deserving close scrutiny. Treasury’s concern is that if a transaction is not between two
parties negotiating it at arm’s length, the cost for which reimbursement is applied may be inflated. The Treasury guidance concludes by detailing the approaches that Treasury uses to determine fair market value of projects.

If you have specific questions about The PV Cost Guidance, you can go on to the Department of Treasury’s 1603 website to review it yourself. You are also welcome to email me with any questions or comments.

Written on November 3, 2011 at 11:21 am, by Michael Allen

Finish 2011 on Target (Part 1)

Last Minute Solar Projects Need to Be Aware of Critical Treasury Department Guidance

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.

As the Section 1603 payment program draws to a close, solar project developers and owners need to pay attention to two critical sources of guidance issued by the United States Department of Treasury.

The first is the “begun construction” guidance, advice regarding the steps applicants must take to ensure that their project will qualify for federal reimbursement funding, if it is not placed in service by the end of the Section 1603 program on December 31, 2011.

The second type of guidance addresses situations in which Treasury will scrutinize reimbursement requests from solar PV projects.

I addressed both types of guidance at the Solar Wisconsin Fall Conference held at the Monona Terrace Convention Center on October 25. A copy of my presentation outline is here: (Section 1603 Guidance Presentation). I will address the first of these types of guidance in this entry and the second type in another entry that I will post in a few days.

 

Begun Construction Guidance

Under a document titled “Frequently Asked Questions and Answers Begun Construction” (the “Begun Construction Guidance”), the Treasury Department has indicated that if a Section 1603 applicant wants its renewable energy project to be eligible to receive a Section 1603 reimbursement payment equal to up to 30 percent of the eligible cost basis, and cannot place it in service (i.e., have it commissioned
and, if applicable, connected to the grid) by the end of 2011, then the applicant must meet one of the two Treasury “begun construction” tests:

Commence actual physical work on the project. This means actual work at the site or actual work by a project contractor on renewable energy project components that are being made specifically for the project.  Items taken out of existing inventory will
not qualify.  Nor will preliminary activities such as site clearing, demolishing existing structures or money spent to obtain financing or secure permits.

5% Safe Harbor Rule. To qualify for the safe harbor, the applicant must have paid (if a cash-basis taxpayer) or incurred (if an accrual basis taxpayer) an amount equal to 5% of the eligible cost-basis of the renewable energy system. Whether or not an expense has been incurred is determined by reference by a multi-part test established under earlier Treasury regulations.  It is important that the monies be spent under a contract that is enforceable under state law and and one that does not limit damages, in the event of breach by the applicant to less than 5% of the total contract price.

 

There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach. If an applicant opts for the physical onsite work approach, there is no established minimum amount of work that must be done. However, once work is begun, it must be continuous. On the other hand, the 5% test does not include the continuous work requirement, only that the threshold amount of money be spent. The 5% Safe Harbor test is not without its own risks: If the applicant spends 5% of the eligible cost basis, as it appears to be in 2011, but if in 2012, the project costs increases so that with 20/20 hindsight the money spent turns out to be less than 5% of the final eligible cost basis, the applicant will fail the 5% Safe Harbor Test.

The requirements in the Begun Construction Guidance are detailed, and require applicants to look carefully at the scheduling of their projects and even the contracts they enter into to create their project, to be sure that they can pass the applicable tests. If you have specific questions about the Begun Construction Guidance, you can go on to the Department of Treasury’s 1603 Program website to  review the guidance. You are also welcome to email me with any questions or comments.

Written on October 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm, by Michael Allen

ELW in the Community: Support for UW-Madison Urban & Regional Planning Course

On October 21, I spoke as part of a panel and worked with the graduate students in the 2011 Planning Workshop in the UW-Madison Department of Urban and Regional Planning. In this course, which is part of the master’s program and financed by a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Sustainable Communities Grant, the students are hard at work developing a regional energy plan examining renewable energy opportunities in nine counties in Southwest Wisconsin.

I spoke as part of a panel that included presentations from Sara Walling, Bioenergy Advisor for the Office of the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Gregory Nemet, Professor at the La Follette School of Public Affairs and Bill Johnson, a bioenergy consultant and former Manager of Biofuel Development for Alliant Energy.

I addressed legal issues involved in the planning process, from the perspective of counsel to developers and utilities involved in establishing renewable energy facilities.  I also drew on my past experience as a city attorney and as counsel for municipalities and local landowners in communities where large-sized renewable energy projects were being developed.

I addressed the differing interests of stakeholders (developers, utilities, municipalities, host land owners and neighbors) that must be taken into account when developing rural energy facilities. The challenge for municipalities is to balance the interests of these stakeholders fairly in making their planning and zoning decisions.  An approach that goes too far to protecting the rights of non-hosting land owners, risks discouraging economic development and depriving potential facility hosts from fully developing the potential of their property. On the other hand, a regulatory approach that is too lax risks subjecting the community to environmental harm or placing unwarranted costs on the community and land owners, when such costs should fairly be borne by the developer or others who will be directly benefiting from the project.

A copy of the slides from the presentation is available here:

Presentation Outline

Written on October 27, 2011 at 11:48 am, by Michael Allen

Janesville Gazette Profiles ELW Client Jim Erickson

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.

Written on September 26, 2011 at 2:42 pm, by Michael Allen

“Don’t Block My Sun”/ “Don’t Block my Solar Installation”

Tips for Putting Your Best Foot Forward with Confused Local Governments and Upset Neighbors

Required Formal Disclaimer:  Since what follows 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.

I have lately been receiving an increasing number of unsolicited calls from homeowners, solar installers and would-be owners of solar energy systems who are running into conflict with their neighbors and local municipalities regarding the installation and operation of solar energy systems.  As the number of solar energy systems (photovoltaic and solar hot water) increase, some of the controversy that has long dogged wind farm developments is starting to spill over to solar installations.  This blog entry is an effort to provide some general tips to the parties who are involved in these disputes and help them minimize cost, controversy and confusion.

Here are a few tips that draw on my experience as an energy transactions attorney and former city attorney to help persons who own or are interested in installing solar energy systems to work and negotiate constructively with neighbors and local governments:

Tip #1: Know and understand the Wisconsin Laws that provide protection to persons with renewable energy systems.  These laws cover wind and solar and detailed discussion of each of these laws and the reported cases interpreting them is beyond the scope of this blog entry.  However, a listing and summary of them can be found on the DSIRE website.

Generally speaking, when applied to solar energy systems these laws attempt to:

  • Protect the rights of persons who own or wish to install a solar energy system, while balancing these rights against the reasonable expectations of neighboring property owners who might want to put on an addition to their home or office. If your solar energy system is already in place, you have greater rights than a person planning a solar energy system.
  • Limit the basis on which local governments and private land use controls can prohibit or regulate solar energy systems.
  • Protect and preserve access to the sun.  This includes providing recourse for when a neighboring property owner creates a “private nuisance” by improperly blocking access to the sun.

Tip #2: If you are seeking local approval for a solar energy system, bring these statutes into the discussion early in the process.  While some of the Wisconsin laws that protect solar energy systems have been in place since the 1980s, the calls I have received suggest that many local officials are unfamiliar with them.   Therefore it is critical to inject them into the discussion as early as possible.  It may be necessary to educate the local municipal planner, building inspector and perhaps even the local municipality’s attorney on the applicable laws protecting solar energy systems.  Doing this increases the likelihood that the discussion over your system will focus on the relevant legal and factual issues, and not get sidetracked by emotionally charged local concerns that are irrelevant or pre-empted by State law.

Tip #3: Try to resolve disputes at the lowest level.  It costs less and takes less time to resolve an issue at the Plan Commission level than have to overturn an unfavorable plan commission decision at a follow up appeal before the Zoning Board of Appeals.  It can be much cheaper (perhaps by as much as a factor of 10 or even more) to resolve a dispute over a solar energy system before a local government board than to go in unprepared, lose before the municipality and then have to fight it out all over in Circuit Court.  I sympathize with homeowners who lack the funds to hire an attorney or are understandably reluctant to spend money on legal fees before they know they have a fight on their hands.  If this describes you, then I recommend you meet with the local planner early and flush out any issues or concerns they, the local body or your neighbors may have.  If there will be objections, you may find that, “An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure”.

Tip #4: Make a record and stick to the law/facts. If you find yourself embroiled in a controversy over your solar energy system, keep in mind how such disputes are resolved.  If legal issues emerge at the local level the local government may involve the local municipal attorney to provide some legal analysis of the issues.  When I was a municipal attorney I had a number of duties, including seeing that my clients followed the applicable law.  Help the municipal attorney to do his or her job by addressing the legal issues directly and succinctly.

If you are unlucky enough to find yourself on the way to Circuit Court, remember that the woman or man who will ultimately resolve your dispute will be not a scientist or a renewable energy supporter, but rather a judge (i.e., a person with a law school education and a lawyer’s perspective on legal issues).  For this reason as well, it is critical to stick to the relevant facts and applicable law.

Based on the calls I have been hearing lately, here are some suggested dos and don’ts:

  • Don’t surprise the government body and do invest time in educating decision-makers and even potential opponents.  Surprising witnesses helped TV lawyer Perry Mason obtain murder confessions in the 1960s show, but surprise is rarely an effective technique at the local level.  Local officials may become frustrated or may even angry when they are surprised by new issues raised in an approval proceeding.  In addition, injecting new issues at the last minute invites the local decision-maker to push the matter back to a later meeting.  This costs you money and delay.  It pays to get your ducks in a row and invest the time necessary to educate staff and even potentially upset neighbors before you go before the local body.
  • Do make a record.  This includes creating a paper trail that inserts the applicable statutes and relevant facts that support you with a narrative that puts your project in the best possible light into the local decision making process.   Pay attention to how the proceeding will be recorded.  If the only record of a meeting will be the local clerk’s notes, you are well-advised to submit a written summary of your position that puts your best foot forward.  Otherwise you are hanging your hat on the clerk’s selective memory as to what was said.  Even recorded proceedings can have subsequent problems with microphone pick up or technical difficulties.  Without a record, an appeal can deteriorate into dueling memories.  This puts the appellate body is at a disadvantage and hurts you if you are appealing.
  • Do remember that local decision-makers are people just like you.  Members of local commissions and boards don’t get paid a lot of money.  It is common for them to take a fair amount of grief in the course of performing their duties.  Treat them with kindness or at least respect.  It can’t hurt and may help.
  • Don’t fall prey to the temptation to make political or activist statements. Heaping praise or scorn on current and past politicians for their commitment or lack of commitment to renewable energy is not germane to the decision on your local permit.  Nor is it relevant or helpful that you were down with solar, before solar was cool, and therefore you believe that you are more highly evolved than the rest of your neighbors.  Politically charged or activist statements are risky, especially in a state like Wisconsin, where opinions appear to be evenly divided on most policy issues.  Stick to the objective facts and relevant laws.

These tips of course don’t, by themselves, guarantee success, but if you follow them, you will increase the likelihood that your project will be evaluated and hopefully approved based on the proper criteria.

Good Luck!

 

Written on September 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm, by Michael Allen

Colleen Wenos Joins Energy Law Wisconsin

Colleen Wenos at Energy Law WisconsinIn the spring, Energy Law Wisconsin hired its first paralegal, Colleen Wenos. Colleen has a BA in English from the University of
Wisconsin Stevens Point, previous work experience in magazine publishing and marketing, and an affinity for dark chocolate. (The last item put her over the top in the job interview.)  Colleen is currently pursuing a legal certificate from Madison College and plans to take two courses this fall.

At Energy Law Wisconsin, Colleen will support the firm in its efforts to provide clients affordable legal services, by performing legal and business research, assisting in contract drafting, and helping with day-to-day business needs.

Welcome, Colleen!

Written on July 25, 2011 at 11:11 am, by Energy Law Wisconsin