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Tel: 804.864.1100

Author Archive: Blair Powell

Setting a New Barre for Fitness

We were excited to read the Richmond BizSense article on our client, City Barre LLC, who is preparing to open a new fitness studio in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood of Richmond this spring. City Barre’s new studio will offer barre classes, which combines various types of exercise techniques including yoga and ballet. We are honored to have been a part of the team that has helped City Barre, and its founder Gretchen Stumpf, get to this point and we look forward to watching City Barre succeed in this exciting new chapter!

If you want to know more about how we worked with City Barre or more about business law, please contact one of our business and corporate lawyers.

Solar Plant Planned for Richmond

As we previously discussed here, last month it was announced that President Trump signed an executive order to impose a 30% tariff on imported solar cells and modules. While there are many critics of the tariff, one local Virginia businessman hopes the tariff will help lead to Virginia’s first solar panel manufacturing facility.

As reported in the Richmond Times Dispatch article, Charles Bush has transformed a 16,000 square foot former die plant off Midlothian Turnpike in South Richmond to a potential solar panel manufacturing facility. He hopes that as manufacturers look for solar panel manufacturing plants in the United States as a result of the tariff, his plant will be attractive given that its “ready to go.” Bush stated that as of now, the plant can produce 460 solar panels a day, but he hopes to double capacity within the first year of operation.

We look forward to following Mr. Bush’s facility and hope to see solar panel manufacturing in Virginia soon!

If you have any questions regarding the solar tariff or solar energy market, please contact one of our renewable energy lawyers.

Has Your Company Registered as a Foreign Entity?

Blair Powell, business and energy lawyer, explains what it means to be required to register in a jurisdiction as a foreign entity and what penalties may accrue if you fail to do so.

For more information, contact Blair or any of our business lawyers.

Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Electric Utility Rate Freeze

But There Is A Powerful Dissent

On September 14, 2017, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an opinion affirming the controversial “rate freeze law.”transmission towers for electricity

As we previously discussed here and here, a group of industrial customers of Appalachian Power Company (“APCo”) appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, asking the Court to strike a controversial portion of the Virginia Electric Utility Regulation Act (“Regulation Act”). The group, the Old Dominion Committee for Fair Utility Rates (“Committee”), challenged a 2015 amendment to the Regulation Act, Senate Bill 1349 — the so-called “rate freeze law” which prevents the State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) from reviewing or reducing the base rates of APCo and Dominion Virginia Power (“Dominion”) until 2020 and 2021, respectively.

There is little dispute the law has helped APCo’s and Dominion’s profits and led to rates that are higher than they otherwise would be if the Commission had authority to review them. Using Dominion’s own figures, Commission Staff calculated in a recent report that the company’s customers would be due about a $130 million refund on bills paid in 2015 and 2016. APCo had overearnings of more than $20 million in 2016, according to the report.

The case centered around the language in Article IX, § 2 of the Constitution of Virginia, which the Committee argued reserved rate-making authority to the Commission, and that the General Assembly had overstepped its authority by passing legislation that stripped the Commission from reviewing the utilities’ rates for five and seven years. Article IX, § 2 provides as follows:

“Subject to such criteria and other requirements as may be prescribed by law, the [State Corporation] Commission shall have the power and be charged with the duty of regulating the rates, charges, and services and, except as may be otherwise authorized by the Constitution or by general law, the facilities of railroad, telephone, gas, and electric companies.” Va. Const. art. IX, § 2.

Justice Mims, in a powerful dissent, summed up the issue properly:  “This case boils down to a simple question: what does that sentence mean?”

In an opinion written by Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan, the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected the Committee’s argument that the rate freeze law violates Article IX, § 2 of the Constitution of Virginia. The Court explains that “[t]here is nothing in Article IX, § 2 that clearly indicates that the Commission’s authority to set rates displaces or is exclusive of the General Assembly’s authority.” The Court further states that the Commission correctly decided that the rate freeze law “is constitutional because it is not plainly repugnant to Article IX, § 2 of the Virginia.” In her opinion for the Court, Justice McClanahan also noted that the Court has “no constitutional authority to judge whether a statute is unwise, improper, or inequitable because the legislature, not the judiciary, is the sole author of public policy.”

In his dissent, Justice Mims argues that the language in Article IX, § 2 means that the “General Assembly may impose standards and prerequisites that the Commission must adhere to when exercising its power and duty to set rates.”  He goes on to clarify that it “does not mean that the General Assembly may suspend that power and duty.” Justice Mims warns that based on the Court’s analysis, the General Assembly has the power to strip the Commission of its power set forth in Article IX, § 2 at its will. “That sobering outcome thwarts the purpose behind creating the Commission in the first place.”

GreeneHurlocker represented the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council (“VCCC”), which filed an amicus brief before the Court. The VCCC argued that the rate-freeze law was unconstitutional. If you have any questions about any of the legal aspects of this case, do not hesitate to contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s Virginia energy and regulatory attorneys.

Virginia to Get $500,000 for Clean Energy Programs

map of Virginia's energy resourcesVirginia was selected to receive a $500,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Energy which will support clean energy programs across the Commonwealth and could help create over 700 jobs. The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy will manage the grant which will provide low-cost financing for private sector clean energy investments through Property Assessed Clean Energy (“PACE”) programs. PACE programs, which are currently used in 16 states and Washington, D.C., serve as a mechanism for financing energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on private property. The programs allow local and state governments to fund the up-front cost of energy improvements on commercial and residential properties, which are paid back over time by the property owners. Localities coordinate with private lenders who are repaid when the localities collect PACE loan payments from the property owners in the form of special property assessments added to the property owner’s tax bill. For more information on PACE programs or other solar project financing and development matters, please contact Eric Hurlocker or Blair Powell at GreeneHurlocker.

CLIENT ALERT: APCo Seeks Solar Power Bids

Appalachian Power (“APCo”), a subsidiary of American Electric Power, issued a Request for Proposals (“RFP”) on January 19, 2017, seeking up to 25 megawatts alternating current (“MW AC”) of ground-mounted utility scale solar.  Pursuant to the terms of the RFP, the project must (i) be located in APCO’s service territory in Virginia or West Virginia, (ii) be interconnected to the PJM Regional Transmission Operator or to APCo’s distribution system and (iii) have a nameplate rating of at least 5 MW AC. In addition, the solar project must have started construction after January 1, 2016 and be operational by December 31, 2019.

You can access the RFP here:  https://www.appalachianpower.com/info/news/viewRelease.aspx?releaseID=2143.

If you have questions about renewable power development or retail electric utility regulations, contact one of our Virginia energy lawyers.

Capitol Mentor Program Includes GreeneHurlocker and Blair Powell

Blair PowellGreeneHurlocker and GreeneHurlocker energy lawyer Blair Powell were noted in the 2016-2017 winter newsletter of the Young Lawyers Division of the Virginia Bar Association (VBA) for their partnership with the Capitol Mentor Program (CMP). The CMP partners with Woodville Elementary School in Richmond, which serves a high percentage of students from low-income and disadvantaged families. The mission is to introduce students to community role models who emphasize the importance of goal setting, school attendance, academic performance and behavior on a student’s personal and professional future. Blair serves as the co-chair of the Program and volunteers each month at Woodville Elementary.

If you have questions about the Young Lawyers Division or Woodville’s involvement in the VBA CMP, or any issues in business law and energy law, feel free to call Blair to learn more.

News about APCo Proposed Tariff Includes Reisinger

GreeneHurlocker energy lawyer Will Reisinger was interviewed by the Richmond Times Dispatch for an article on Monday, November 14, 2016, because we are involved in Appalachian Power Company’s (“APCo”) proposed green Tariff, Rider REO (“Rider”) proceeding in Virginia. His comments are related to the firm’s representation of the Maryland, DC and Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (“MDV-SEIA”), which filed testimony with the Virginia State Corporation Commission (the “SCC”) in Case No. PUE-2016-00051, opposing APCo’s proposed Rider.  Reisinger also participated in the hearing on the case at the SCC on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

In the proceeding, APCo requested approval by the SCC of the Rider, a voluntary, 100% renewable energy rider.  MDV-SEIA and other opponents of the Rider argue that it actually impedes competition from third-party renewable energy providers in APCo’s service area in Virginia.  In testimony filed with the SCC, MDV-SEIA argues that the Rider will not offer customers the access to solar energy that APCo’s customers desire, nor will it support the development of solar energy in Virginia.  It is also unclear from the Rider whether its efforts would result in the development of any new renewable generation in Virginia, as the Rider would simply bundle the output of several existing, out-of-state renewable energy facilities that are currently under long-term power purchase agreements.

We will be preparing and filing post-hearing briefs in the coming months and will continue our efforts to bring more renewable energy projects to the Commonwealth. If you have any questions about this proceeding, or other regulatory matters at the SCC, please contact Will or our other regulatory and energy lawyers.

Albemarle County Public Schools Solar Dedication

Gov. McAuliffe at ribbon cuttingOn October 20, 2016, Eric Hurlocker and Blair Powell, together with numerous state and local officials, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Monticello High School in Charlottesville, Virginia commemorating new solar panel installations developed by our long-standing client, Secure Futures. Six public schools in Albemarle County now receive a portion of its energy from rooftop solar, totaling 1.1 megawatts of renewable energy, which will meet approximately 22% of the schools’ electricity needs. This project makes Albemarle County Public Schools the first public school district in Virginia to purchase solar energy using a Power Purchase Agreement under Dominion’s Renewable Energy Pilot Program.  Governor Terry McAuliffe presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony and provided an update on his energy plan for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

If you want to know more about the Albemarle ribbon-cutting or about renewable and solar energy projects in Virginia, contact any of our Virginia energy lawyers.

Ribbon cutting in Albemarle