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DISCLAIMER: This blog is published for general information only - it is not intended to constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon by any person as legal advice. While we welcome you to contact our authors, the submission of a comment or question does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and you.

Monday
Jul062015

Foundations for First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Head for R.I. 

The following was originally posted by Christopher Monroe on Verrill Dana’s Maritime Law Blog, Law on the Water Line: www.atlanticmaritimelaw.com.

Recent reports from the Associated Press indicate that massive steel foundations for the Nation’s first offshore wind project will soon leave fabrication facilities in Houma, Louisiana, destined for Block Island, Rhode Island. According to Deepwater Wind, the 5-turbine Block Island Wind Farm is scheduled to be online during the third quarter of 2016 and could supply most of Block Island’s power.

The full article can be read here.

Thursday
Jul022015

Wind Industry Service Operation Vessels Christened in Germany 

The following was originally posted by Christopher Monroe on Verrill Dana’s Maritime Law Blog, Law on the Water Line: www.atlanticmaritimelaw.com.

Siemens and ESVAGT A/S recently announced the christenings of two purpose-built Service Operation Vessels (SOV’s) specifically engineered to service and maintain offshore wind power plants. According to company literature, the christenings demonstrate ESVAGT’s ongoing commitment to transfer their maritime vessel competencies from offshore oil and gas to the somewhat younger offshore wind industry.

While ESVAGT owns the service vessels, Siemens provides their proprietary BlueDriveTM propulsion system to reduce CO2 emissions and fuel consumption, as well as hydraulic systems to support the Amplemann active access gangway. The new vessels will purportedly revolutionize offshore wind service by increasing productivity, accelerating response times, and implementing advanced safety mechanisms that will allow turbine access in significant wave heights of up to 2.5 meters (8.2 ft), which is higher than the safety limits of traditional crew transfer vessels (CTV).

The recent investment in the purpose-built vessels reflects a global trend in the offshore wind industry to build wind facilities further offshore. The two recently-christened vessels will service the North Sea and Baltic Sea, while a third vessel will join the fleet in autumn 2016 and service wind facilities off the east coast of England.

Wednesday
Jun242015

USFWS Explores MBTA Incidental Take Permit

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it is looking into the creation of an incidental take permitting program under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  Currently the regulations under the MBTA only authorize incidental take for hunting; military readiness; scientific collection, falconry and other special purposes; and to control birds that cause depredation.  

USFWS will be preparing a programatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) to evaluate the impacts of setting up a comprehensive incidental take permitting program.  Four initial options have been identified:

  • Programmatic authorization for take associated with certain activities and industries.  The activities initially identified by USFWS are oil, gas and wastewater disposal pits; gas exhaust pipes at oil production facilities; communication towers; and electric transmission and distribution lines.  Other activities, specifically wind energy generation, are under consideration.
  • Individual permits authorizing activities on a case-by-case basis.  This option could exist in tandem with the programatic authorization option to permit incidental take for activities not included in the programmatic exemption.
  • Memoranda of understanding with federal agencies.  This is analogous to a programmatic authorization for incidental take caused by federal agency activities.  Whether such an MOU would authorize take by a third party acting under a federal regulatory program (e.g. pursuant to an Army Corps Section 404 permit) is under consideration.
  • Voluntary guidance.  This option would be a continuation of the status quo, where USFWS would not provide legal authorization in the form of a permit, but would use its enforcement discretion to give a pass to activities conducted in accordance with its guidance.  

USFWS will be accepting comments regarding its initial proposals until July 27.  In the meantime, USFWS is holding “open houses” on its proposal and will present a webinar on July 8.  USFWS has also created a website just for the MBTA rulemaking.

Hundreds of millions of migratory birds protected under the MBTA are killed by human activity every year.  The creation of a permitting system that allows otherwise lawful, socially desirable activity to go forward without relying on USFWS’s enforcement discretion to avoid criminal liability is long overdue.

Wednesday
May062015

News Flash: Wind Power Reduces Carbon, Other Harmful Emissions

A report released this week finds that wind power plays a significant role in reducing carbon and other harmful emissions in the state of Maine by displacing energy generation from traditional power plants.

The study, conducted by Massachusetts-based consulting firm Sustainable Energy Advantage, examined the environmental impacts of the 431 MW of wind power existing in Maine as of 2013, as well as a projection of 1,782 MW expected to be installed by 2020. 

The report estimates that Maine’s 2013 wind power fleet resulted in annual reduced carbon emissions equal to 1.1 billion miles driven by an average car. By 2020, the reduction in carbon emissions is projected to be equal to 4.8 billion car miles.

The full report can be read here.

Monday
May042015

Bruce Williamson Nominated to Maine Public Utilities Commission

Governor LePage announced today that he has nominated Bruce Williamson to the Maine Public Utilities Commission.  If confirmed, Dr. Williamson will be the third LePage appointee to the Commission, joining Mark Vannoy, Chair and Carlise McLean, Commissioner.

According to the Governor’s press release, Dr. Williamson is an economist at the University of Tennessee’s Howard Baker Center for Public Policy.  Dr. Wiliamson’s linked-in profile indicates that since June 2013, he has been the Senior Economist for the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Nuclear Security.

Dr. Williamson earned his PhD in economics at the University of New Mexico; holds an M.A. in International Relations from the Korbel School of International Studies in Colorado; and has an undergraduate degree from Cornell University.

Friday
Apr242015

Energy Infrastructure Gets Regional, National and Global Attention

Energy infrastructure is all the rage these days. 

Earlier this week the White House released its inaugural Quadrennial Energy Review, which “examines how to modernize our nation’s energy infrastructure to promote economic competitiveness, energy security and environmental responsibility.”  Not surprisingly, the report calls for major investments to upgrade and modernize transmission lines, pipelines and other infrastructure to increase security and reliability.  The report also states that the U.S. grid needs to change to accomodate the changing energy generation landscape, namely the growth of renewables and distributed generation.

Yesterday, the governors of the the New England states met for an “energy summit” to discuss upgrades to the region’s transmission infrastructure, and how to pay for them.  Although the states have differing priorities in many areas, the governors agreed on the need to invest in greater natural gas pipeline capacity.     

At a more global level, a thought-provoking essay in the economy section of the New York Times highlighted the vast gulf between energy use in the developed and developing parts of the world, and argued that greater economic development in poorer countries would actually reduce consumption of natural resources.  The argument is based on the recently released EcoModernist Manifesto, which states that “Intensifying many human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world is the key to decoupling human development from environmental impacts.”  It is a counterintuitive strategy calling for dense, centralized human activity (cities, industrial agrigulture, power plants) that makes efficient, if destructive, use of natural resources so that the rest of the planet can be kept in its natural state - away from humans.  

So, basically the opposite of the back to the land and locavore movements.    

Wednesday
Apr152015

Halleluja: The Clean, Green Renewable Future Is Upon Us!!!

The American Wind Energy Association released its annual market report for 2014 today.  As expected, most of the report’s findings are quite positive, with “more wind power capacity under construction at the end of 2014 than at the end of any other year.”  Over 100 U.S. wind power projects totalling 12,700 MW were built last year.  There are now over 65,000 MW of installed wind energy capacity in the United States.

The AWEA report was not all sunshine and daisies however, noting that development-chilling uncertainty about the production tax credit continues: “The lapse of the PTC at the end of 2012 drove a 92% drop in installations in 2013” and “PTC uncertainty continues with an extension through the end of 2014 that came only two weeks before the end of the year.”    

Among the report’s other optimistic findings were that the cost of onshore wind energy has dropped by over 50 percent between 2009 and 2013, and that wind energy was the largest source of new electricity generation in the United States in 2014.

The AWEA report is grounded in graphic analysis based on concrete wind energy development figures, which sets it apart from predictive renewable energy studies that are sometimes promoted under strikingly upbeat headlines.  In general though, the renewable news is good.  Here is just a sampling of rosy headlines from the renewable energy news media that came out in the past few days:

 Take that Pat Sajak!