At pv magazine USA, we have covered many cases where the biggest challenge to deploying solar is legal. A few examples:
- In Wisconsin, Eagle Point Solar had to put solar modules in a warehouse for more than a year, and they are now awaiting a court ruling to decide whether a single rooftop solar lease makes them equivalent to a utility.
- Eagle Point had to push the same lawsuit in Iowa, which they won.
- In Florida sale of electricity is strictly limited to utilities, so Sunrun – just last year – did an end run in the residential market by offering a fixed rate lease.
- In Montana, state regulators were found to have set federally mandated power purchase agreement rates at intentionally too low prices for the express purpose of undercutting the viability of solar power. A judge recently ruled on the new rates, three years after the rules were changed. Montana’s utility scale solar industry went to near – if not truly – zero installations in the following years.
- An electric utility in New Orleans hired actors to fill out a public meeting on power plant choices – with the group wearing pro- natural gas shirts, and booing solar power. A judge recently ruled that the New Orleans City Council had violated the Open Meetings Law by shutting opponents of a gas plant out of a public meeting.
Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University and the law firm Arnold & Porter have launched the Renewable Energy Legal Defense Initiative, whose purpose is to provide pro bono legal representation to community groups and others who want renewable energy projects that are being impeded by opposition. Their work will be to implement a toolkit that includes more than 1,000 specific legal recommendations.
Arnold & Porter has provided a litigation associate, Laura Cottingham, to spend half her time over the next year working on this project. Michael Gerrard, founder & director of the Sabin Center, noted that their team has begun recruiting lawyers – mostly in big firms, but some in smaller firms or on their own, or in nongovernmental organizations – to do the work in the variety of legal fields needed. This Includes, but is not limited to: environmental and energy lawyers, transactional lawyers, property lawyers, corporate lawyers, property and land use lawyers, and more.
The group will be creating a website where the resulting work product and associated resources will be posted for the benefit of anyone who cares to use them.
In an article posted on Arnold & Porter, Garrard noted that the legal toolkit has more than 1,000 specific recommendations for actions at the federal, state and local levels. The book, Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States, was released in March.
The 54 page table of contents (pdf) covers the eight main parts, which cumulatively cover more than 30 specific chapters. Topics include building efficiency, fuels in all types of vehicles (light duty, heavy duty, aviation and shipping), electricity decarbonization, carbon capture, non-carbon pollutants, public health, national security and much more.
Chapter 19 focuses on Distributed Renewable Energy, solar specifically, with the first few sections below:
Larger solar is also referenced in Ch 18. Utility-Scale Renewable Generation Capacity, and Ch 5 Financing Large-Scale Project.
In coverage on Sallan.org, it was noted that the Defense Initiative’s first client is the Friends of Flint Mine Solar. A group of farmers who are united against the city of Coxsackie claiming the law it passed in November to bar development of most solar energy farms is illegal.
It is clear that we need legal support to push back against financially motivated energy companies that wish to support the status quo and their profits.