Energy Law Wisconsin
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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. I would like to install solar panels or collectors on my house or business. Do I need to hire you? How can you help?
  2. I have an idea for a unique energy producing/ saving product. When is the right time to bring in a lawyer?
  3. Where can I find information about government grants, low interest loans or tax credits that can help me finance my renewable energy project?
  4. I have heard that I canít sell power generated by my renewable energy project to a business down the street or transport it to California. Is this true?
  5. Given that the name of the business is Energy Law Wisconsin, do you practice in any areas of law that aren't energy related?
  6. I am planning a renewable energy project that will generate renewable electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. How can I monetize carbon credits or renewable energy credits from my project?
 

Answers


I would like to install solar panels or collectors on my house or business. Do I need to hire you? How can you help?

A homeowner or business owner is not required to hire an attorney in connection with installing solar panels or collectors on their property.  In fact, there can be a significant amount of overlap between what a good energy lawyer would do and what a good installer may do as part of the installation process.

However, there are times when an experienced attorney can help.  I have listed below some situations where it makes sense to hire an energy lawyer:

  • When you are depending upon government grants or tax credits to finance your project and you are not 100% confident that the solar installer is knowledgeable about them and is also willing and able to help you apply for them.
  • If you don’t fully understand the contract between you and the solar installer, including whether it adequately protects you with respect to such things as warranty protection, cost increases and completion deadlines.
  • If you wish to sell the power or thermal energy generated by your solar system to anyone other than the local utility under a form of power purchase agreement required as part of the buy-back program.

I have an idea for a unique energy producing/ saving product. When is the right time to bring in a lawyer?

If your idea is truly novel, it may make sense to bring an intellectual property attorney in right away to help you avoid accidently losing intellectual property protections that may apply. For example, there are requirements that must be followed, both under U.S. Law and the laws of other nations, to establish and protect patent protection for inventions.  This doesn’t mean that every step you take has to be run through the attorney, but some basic coaching and preparation of a suitable form of non-disclosure agreement may be necessary. 

Subsequent situations where it is appropriate to bring in the lawyer include:

  • When you are considering entering into an agreement with another party;
  • Forming a business entity to hold your invention and/or raise money.
  • If you wish to patent your invention
  • If you wish to apply for grant or other incentive programs that are unfamiliar to you.

Where can I find information about government grants, low interest loans or tax credits that can help me finance my renewable energy project?

There are many government agencies that offer assistance to renewable energy projects.  Here are links to some of the better known programs and agencies that provide them:

This is far from an exhaustive list of the assistance that is potentially available.  Whether or not grant funds or other incentives are available is determined by whether your project fits within the scope of each specific program.  For expensive and/or complex projects, it is an especially good idea to evaluate assistance that may be available very early in the planning process.


I have heard that I canít sell power generated by my renewable energy project to a business down the street or transport it to California. Is this true?

This statement is true in a very rough sense in Wisconsin, but may not be true at all for projects located outside the state’s borders.  The details of each situation are important and must be considered carefully.  Here are a few general statements that apply to electric sales in Wisconsin:

  • Wisconsin’s electric markets are deregulated only at the wholesale level.  Therefore, an independent power producer is free to sell electricity that it generates to a regulated Wisconsin utility, but may not freely sell it to any other interested user, whether or not the user is located in State.
  • Wisconsin’s public utility law contains a definition of “public utility” that has the effect of requiring anyone who wishes to hold themselves out as willing to provide electric service to the general public to be regulated as a public utility by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.
  • The phrase “holding oneself out as willing to serve the public” is currently defined by reference to a series of court decisions going back to 1911.  There have been instances in which an electric generator was allowed to serve an adjacent business or tenants in the same building without being deemed to be a regulated public utility.  However, Wisconsin courts have also said that in appropriate circumstances, offering to serve even a single customer can make one a public utility.

Given that the name of the business is Energy Law Wisconsin, do you practice in any areas of law that aren't energy related?

Yes.  My law practice is named “Energy Law Wisconsin” because I have chosen to focus my attention on energy development projects and working with businesses and others who are providing energy related goods and services.  However, I also have more than a quarter century of experience with contracts, business law, real estate and municipal law issues that I bring to bear to help my clients in and outside the energy field.  I also serve regularly in a “general counsel” role for my energy industry clients, which means I handle whatever legal issues come up for them, energy or otherwise, and provide the services they need.  Examples include:

  • Confidentiality/Non-disclosure Agreements for clients with new products and services.
  • Real Estate Purchase Agreements, Leases and Easements.
  • Professional Services Agreements.
  • Construction Contracts and Subcontracts for the Purchase of Equipment, Materials and Services
  • Forming Business Entities (Corporations, LLCs, etc.)
  • Preparing clients for and representing them in complex negotiations
  • Ghost-writing strategic letters for CEOs who wish to get their point across without making legal foot faults.

I am planning a renewable energy project that will generate renewable electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. How can I monetize carbon credits or renewable energy credits from my project?

Environmental attributes of renewable electricity, such as carbon credits and renewable energy credits, derive their value based on the worth they are given in markets, which adopt rules to define how they are generated, verified and traded. Some of these markets are voluntary, but more often they are part of a regulatory compliance program, such as a renewable energy portfolio standard. Frequently environmental attributes are given a value in a power purchase agreement with an electric utility that pays a premium to purchase them, together with electricity generated by the renewable energy generation system, to meet its own obligations under a regulatory program.

If the owner of a renewable energy system retains the environmental attributes it produces, it is up to the owner to take the steps necessary to identify their value, then sell or trade them, for whatever price is obtainable in the relevant markets. As of today, there is no nationwide market. Persons with renewable energy systems In Wisconsin need to pay attention to developing markets for environmental attributes to learn how to market them and maximize the value of their environmental attributes. All of the following factors are relevant to this process:

  • Locating the markets in which the specific environmental attributes are eligible for sale.
  • Determining the current market price for each unit to be sold.
  • Quantifying the number of eligible units that the renewable energy system will produce and determining whether the market price for these justifies the transaction costs.
  • Learning the rules of the marketplace to be certain that the units generated meet the documentation and verification requirements for sale in the particular chosen market.