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The GreeneHurlocker Blog

Knowing Where to Start

Clients wonder sometimes what they are getting into when they ask a lawyer to draft a contract. Maybe their fear is that their attorney will sharpen up his metaphorical pencil, lean his chair back to think deeply on life and law for an hour or two (on the clock), and then pull out the laptop and sit down to drafts things up from scratch, like a composer writing out each note to a (very boring) symphony. The client may fear that the lawyer views every deal is different, that everything about every deal is new every time, that everything needs to be tailored like a bespoke suit.

Every deal is different, it’s often said – I’ve heard myself say it a hundred times. That’s because the facts are different, and that’s because no two people and no two companies are alike or have the exact same priorities. But that doesn’t mean that two deals – say, two leases of refrigerated warehouse space, or two agreements for the purchase of the assets of small businesses — happening 500 miles apart (or 5000 or 5) — can’t be done with forms of contract that are 90% the same.

In fact, they probably should be done that way.

And your attorney shouldn’t be spending a whole lot of time going for the Pulitzer Prize for creative nonfiction and drafting that 90% (just a percentage used for illustration purposes) from scratch.

Unless we are speaking of some sort of business deal where the industry is utterly new, the parties are utterly idiosyncratic, and the risk tolerances are off the charts (one direction or the other), or all of the above, the same basic forms work across the board. I remember Internet 1.0 – the days of AOL and Pets.com — and the ways that lawyers were trying to draft “application service provider” contracts that expressed the concept of software programs being accessed over the Internet (what we now call Software as a Service (SaaS)). But even in that time, when the Internet was beginning to utterly change the way the world operated, the contracts were pretty much built right on top of software, consulting, joint venture and financing contracts that had been around for decades before that.

The majority of the text in a contract from 1975 (the year of the room-sized computer) – for example, events of default, remedies on default, representations and warranties, indemnification, assignment, the boilerplate at the end, and the general flow and sequence of the document — was essentially the same as the text in a contract drafted in 2000 (the year of the Pets.com sock puppet). The same is even more true for commercial real estate contracts, and even holds true for many types of intellectual property agreements.

And it goes without saying that 90% of the text in an accounting SaaS services agreement from 2017 is going to be the same as a payroll SaaS services agreement from 2019.

Anyone who tells it differently is trying to create mystery where there really should be none.

That’s my candid and honest observation How does this insight relate to you?

As outside corporate general counsel, under our OPENgc service offering, GreeneHurlocker is keenly focused on saving a client time and money while still delivering the legal assistance a client needs, when they need it. We avoid reinventing wheels. We’ve been practicing enough years, in widely varying industries and for companies of all sizes, to have an experienced, intuitive sense of what works and what doesn’t, and how the work we’ve done before may apply to the work we are doing for a client now. When a client picks up the phone and asks for an individual contract to be done or an entire deal to be quarterbacked, the client can rest assured we are not starting from scratch. Instead, we’re applying all the knowledge and work we have already done.

We’re here to guide you to the end of your deal. But we also know where to start.

Comments filed on Draft Maryland Retail Supplier Load Shaping RFP

In late March, we posted about the Maryland Public Service Commission’s request for comments on a draft “Retail Supplier Load Shaping RFP” in the Public Conference 44 proceeding. In early April, comments were filed by the Maryland Energy Administration, the Retail Energy Supply Association, Direct Energy Services, Inc., Staff of the Maryland Public Service Commission, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company/Potomac Electric Power Company/Delmarva Power & Light Company, the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel, and CleanChoice Energy, Inc.

Parties encouraged the Commission to adopt an RFP process to maximize supplier participation, protect trade secrets, provide suppliers flexibility in their load shaping pilot proposals, and allow expanded billing options to enable suppliers to bring innovative proposals to the table. Some parties specifically pointed to supplier consolidated billing and on-bill financing as important tools to pair with supplier time-of-use electricity supply offerings within the pilot. Commenting suppliers noted some key improvements to the RFP structure as compared to a prior retail supplier time-of-use pilot design. However, suppliers also recommended that the Commission add options for marketing support for the retail supplier load shaping pilot offering to help get the word out about the program and encourage customer participation.

Additional recommendations addressed promoting use of renewable energy, access to historical usage data, expanded opportunities for net metering customers, and modifications to other program criteria. Suppliers also raised concerns about certain requirements that may discourage some suppliers from submitting bids to participate in the pilot program. The Office of People’s Counsel commented on the importance of minimizing the costs to both participating and non-participating consumers, ensuring adequate consumer protections, incentives structures, billing, and other issues. All of the comments were filed on April 9, 2019, and as of this post, we are waiting for further action from the Commission in response to the comments.

If you have questions or would like more information about Maryland Retail Supplier Load Shaping RFP or other regulatory issues, please contact Eric Wallace or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Delmarva Power Files Proposed DE Purchase of Receivables

transmission towers for electricityAfter years of proceedings at the Delaware Public Service Commission, the end – or the beginning – is in sight. In late March, Delmarva Power filed its proposed Purchase of Receivables (POR) program, including the going-in discount rates, with the Delaware Commission. With a POR program, the utility purchases the receivables of the retail electric supplier operating on the system, which helps to level the playing field between suppliers and the utility which has the right to disconnect service for non-payment.

Delmarva recommends that the program take effect for service rendered on June 1, 2019, as the Commission has previously directed. The discount rates are important because those are the “discounts” that retail suppliers must accept in allowing the utility to purchase the receivable. Delmarva proposes the following discount rates for the first year of the program:

Class Discount Rate
Residential 0.6167%
Small C&I 0.3409%
Large C&I 0.1182%
Hourly Priced Service 0.0%

 

It is expected that the Commission will consider the POR proposal at one of its May administrative meetings, in time for the program to being June 1, 2019. For more information, please contact one of our energy lawyers.

Good for the Earth

Back in 1970, few who celebrated the first Earth Day could have imagined the many ways that our world would have changed in the nearly five decades since. One good change is the increasing use of renewable energy, something we have a firm interest in since many of our clients are developing, financing and servicing the industry. And the fact that it has become an industry and grows stronger every year is definitely good for the earth. So, Happy Earth Day!

If you have a question about renewable energy in Virginia or the mid-Atlantic, simply contact any of our energy lawyers.

Maryland PSC Requests Comments on New RFP for Retail Suppliers

The Maryland Public Service Commission issued a Notice of Opportunity to Comment seeking comments on a new “Retail Supplier Load Shaping RFP.” The Commission want to consider “programs designed to demonstrate the ability to shape residential load profiles using innovative business models.” Comments on the RFP, a copy of which is attached to the Notice, are due April 9, 2019.

The RFP states that:

“The primary goal of this RFP is to identify pilots that demonstrate an ability to shape customer load profiles through load shifting, peak shaving, and energy efficiency. Applicants can propose any mechanism for load shaping such as sending appropriate price signals (real time rates), using technology to control usage (controllable thermostats), payment of rebates or behavioral modification treatments. A secondary goal is to test whether load shaping can lower customer bills or reduce the customers’ overall effective rate for electricity by avoiding energy usage during high cost periods. Customer satisfaction will be surveyed at the pilot’s conclusion.”

There’s some background here. In early 2017, the Commission established Public Conference 44 with various working groups. Three working groups involved areas where the retail supply market could be improved or could expand to provide additional services to Maryland customers. One of those working groups involved rate design issues and sought to develop TOU pilot programs. The Commission approved TOU programs for the utilities, which are now being marketed to customers. The Commission also approved an RFP to establish retail supplier programs. However, and the Commission in November 2018 issued a letter order holding that the bids received were not compliant and directed the utilities to reject them.

The Commission has now proposed changes to the prior RFP and has issued the current Notice to elicit more involvement from retail suppliers in a rate design program. The Commission seems determined to engage the retail supplier community in this effort, stating that, “[a]s Maryland moves forward with grid modernization, the retail supply community can play an important role in supporting policy goals, including more active efforts to shape load profiles.”

If you have questions or would like more information about community solar projects or other regulatory issues, contact Brian Greene or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Maryland Solar Groups Seek Community Solar Utility Consolidated Billing

On March 20th, the Climate Access Fund and Solar United Neighbors of Maryland filed a petition asking the Maryland Public Service Commission to require Maryland utilities to provide consolidated billing for subscriber organizations participating in Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program. The petitioners want utilities to include community solar subscription charges on customer bills. Today, subscriber organizations have to separately bill community solar subscribers. The stated objective of the petition is to make consolidated billing available for low and moderate income customers, helping to improve the economics of participating in the program. Two alternatives are proposed in the petition: (1) consolidated billing for all subscriber organizations or (2) consolidated billing for low and moderate income-focused community solar projects only.

We will be on the lookout for a response from the Commission and opportunities to comment on the community solar consolidated billing proposal. If you would like to review the filing, a copy of the petition is available on the Maryland Public Service Commission’s website: Mail Log # 224384.

For more information about Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program, check out our previous blog posts:

Maryland Proposes Community Solar Pilot Program Regulations
Community Solar Growing in Mid-Atlantic
Continued Progress for Community Solar in Maryland

If you have questions or would like more information about community solar projects or other regulatory issues, contact Eric Wallace or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Virginia Commission Denies Walmart’s Request to Shop for Electricity

On February 25, 2019, the Virginia State Corporation Commission entered a Final Order denying Walmart’s petitions seeking permission under Va. Code § 56-577(A)(4) (“Section A 4”) to aggregate or combine the demands of certain electricity accounts. Walmart had filed a petition to aggregate 120 accounts in the Dominion service territory and 44 accounts in the Appalachian Power service territories. Had the petitions been approved, Walmart intended to enter into a contract to purchase electricity from its affiliate, Texas Retail Energy, but would remain as a distribution customers of the utilities. But, the Commission denied both petitions.

Under § 56-577(A)(4), nonresidential customers can aggregate their load to hit the 5 MW floor needed to switch electricity supply from the customer’s utility to a competitive service provider (“CSP”). Section A 4 requires the customers to seek Commission approval to aggregate. A company like Walmart must seek permission because the Code treats non-contiguous sites that are under 5 MW as separate customers. The Commission may approve the petition if it finds that: (1) “neither such customers’ incumbent electric utility nor retail customers of such utility that do not choose to obtain electric energy from alternate suppliers will be adversely affected in a manner contrary to the public interest by granting such petition,” and (2) “approval of such petition is consistent with the public interest.”

In the Final Order, the Commission found that remaining customers would be adversely affected in a manner contrary to the public interest. The Commission cited to alleged costs that would be shifted to remaining customers attributable to the loss of Walmart’s load. The Commission also cited to the alleged bill impacts that the utilities presented in the cases which purported to show the increases to an average residential customer’s monthly bills in the event Walmart was allowed to shop. The Commission also cited to the potential for lower earned returns for the utilities and found that the potential for load growth in a utility service territory did not matter.

The Commission determined that “the harm to customers who do not, or cannot, switch to a CSP is contrary to the public interest.” The Commission noted that the vast majority of Dominion and APCo customers have no ability to shop for solely lower prices. The Commission discussed that since 2007, the average Dominion and APCo residential customer has seen monthly bills increase by $48 (73%) and $26 (29%), respectively, and that with the mandates in Senate Bill 966, passed in 2018, more increases are likely to come.

Of course, there were numerous arguments presented by Walmart and other parties in the proceedings that addressed and countered the Commission’s findings summarized above.

The Commission concluded that if Walmart believes the current statutory structure results in rates that are too high, or that the public policy of Virginia should be to institute retail choice on a far more extensive scale than required under current law, “its potential for recourse may be found through the legislative process.” That process would begin with the 2020 legislative session because the 2019 sessions ended on Sunday, February 24 — the day before the Commission entered the Final Order.

The case numbers are PUR-2017-00173 (Dominion) and PUR-2017-00174 (APCo). Follow those links to see all the documents, including the Final Order, filed in each case. If you have questions about these cases, electricity purchases or rates, or need legal counsel regarding electricity regulation, please contact one of our Virginia regulatory lawyers.

MD PSC Approves Modified Electric Vehicle Portfolio

electric car iconThe Maryland Public Service Commission issued an order on January 14, 2019, approving Electric Vehicle (“EV”) Portfolio Programs for Maryland’s electric distribution utilities. The EV Portfolio Programs aim to increase EV usage in Maryland by expanding EV tariff options, furthering utility investment in EV charging infrastructure, and offering customer programs for EV owners.

The Proposed EV Portfolio Programs:

Case No. 9478 kicked off with a petition filed on January 22, 2018, by the Public Conference 44 Electric Vehicle Work Group Leader, with the support of the utilities and several other stakeholders, to implement a statewide electric vehicle proposal. The proposals for each participating utility are summarized below:

Baltimore Gas and Electric: BGE’s proposed program included installation of 18,455 EV chargers, costing $48.1 million. For residential customers, BGE proposed $9.7 million in rebate programs that could be pared with BGE’s existing “Whole-House Time-of-Use Rate” for customers with EV chargers. BGE also proposed $14.1 million in rebates and incentives, as well as a “Demand Charge Credit” program, for non-residential customers who install EV chargers for fleet use. In addition to these customer programs, BGE proposed a public network of 1,000 EV chargers, costing $17 million, and a grant program for 490 EV chargers, costing another $7.2 million.

Pepco and Delmarva: Pepco and Delmarva proposed similar programs, including a combined 3,038 EV chargers costing $41.9 million. The Pepco and Delmarva proposals also included residential rebate programs, off-peak charging credits, and expansion of Pepco’s “Whole-House Time-of-Use Rate” to Delmarva. The price tag for the Pepco and Delmarva residential programs was $5 million. For non-residential customers, Pepco and Delmarva proposed rebate and incentive programs for EV chargers, a demand charge credit program, for a combined cost of $10 million. Pepco and Delmarva also proposed installing 608 public EV chargers, costing $16.9 million. Pepco and Delmarva proposed $6.9 million in additional rebate and grant programs for installation of EV chargers. The proposed “DC Fast Charging with Energy Storage” demonstration project is aimed at minimizing adverse grid impacts from installation of fast charging stations, for another $2.8 million.

Potomac Edison: Potomac Edison also proposed rebates, incentives, public chargers, and EV tariffs, with a total of 2,259 EV chargers costing over $12.3 million.

The utilities proposed ratepayer financing for the $104.7 million investment in new infrastructure charging portfolios, meaning customers will pay for these programs through electric distribution rates or customer surcharges over a five year period. However, there are other state and local incentive programs available that may offset some of the costs for the new chargers. Some of the costs would also be recovered from charging customers that use public or non-residential chargers. As discussed below, the Commission did not approve these programs as proposed, reducing the program size and the cost to Maryland ratepayers.

The Commission’s Decision (Order No. 88997):

In its order, the Commission reduced the BGE and Potomac Edison residential rebate programs to a total of 1,000 each. The Commission also limited the rebate to $300 (compared to the proposed $500 rebate). The Commission approved the proposed Pepco and Delmarva residential rebate offerings. The Commission also approved continuation and expansion of utility “Whole-House Time-of-Use Rate” offerings for residential customers. Regarding the non-residential customer proposals, the Commission limited its approval to rebates and incentives for EV chargers installed at multi-unit or multi-tenant dwellings. The Commission also approved a limited number of rate-payer funded public charging stations: 500 for BGE, 100 for Delmarva, 250 for Pepco, and the full 59 proposed by Potomac Edison. The Commission rejected the proposed $14 million in innovation rebate and grant programs, as well as the proposed Pepco and Delmarva demonstration projects. The Commission also directed all the utilities to recover costs through traditional ratemaking in a future rate case (as proposed by BGE, Delmarva, and Pepco), rather than Potomac Edison’s upfront customer surcharge.

The next step is for the utilities to develop and submit tariff proposals to implement the EV programs approved by the Commission.

If you have any questions about the Maryland Public Service Commission’s decision on the Statewide Electric Vehicle Program or other regulatory issues, contact Eric Wallace or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

SCC Order OKs new, but limited, APCo customer renewable tariff

On January 7, the State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) approved a request by Appalachian Power Company (“APCo”) to offer a 100% renewable energy tariff to its customers. The APCo proposal, designated Rider WWS, would include energy generated at several wind and hydroelectric facilities that are currently part of the utility’s generation portfolio. For residential customers taking service under the tariff and using 1,000 kilowatt hours per month, the monthly bill increase would be $4.25. Customers would also pay a “balancing” charge that is intended to ensure that non-participating customers are not affected by the tariff.

Several renewable energy and environmental advocates opposed APCo’s proposal. APCo and the intervening parties disagreed about whether the price of the tariff was based on current market prices for renewable energy and whether it is appropriate for APCo to sell energy that is already in its utility’s generation portfolio at a premium rate. Appalachian Voices, represented in the case by the Southern Environmental Law Center, argued that APCo’s proposal would “charge customers more than they currently pay for the privilege of claiming the output of certain resources already in APCo’s fleet.” Several parties noted that the rate customers would pay is tied to renewable energy credit (“REC”) market prices, as opposed to the actual cost of the underlying renewable energy. The Commission’s staff also questioned whether Rider WWS would constitute a renewable energy tariff at all, since the tariff price would be based on the cost of RECs – not on the price of renewable energy itself.

Finally, several parties noted that approval of the application would eliminate the rights of many APCo customers to shop for renewable energy. The effect on retail choice is due to Virginia’s unique regulatory structure. Virginia is, for the most part, a traditionally regulated jurisdiction. This means that incumbent electric utilities such as APCo hold state-protected monopolies on the sale of electricity in their service territories. Virginia law, however, provides a few exceptions under which customers can purchase electric generation from non-utility companies licensed by the SCC to sell retail electricity.

One of these exceptions is for 100% renewable energy purchases. The Code allows any Virginia customer – including residential customers – to purchase electricity “provided 100% from renewable energy” from non-utility suppliers. Pursuant to the statute, however, this option is only available if the customer’s incumbent electric utility does not offer an SCC-approved tariff for 100% renewable energy. Prior to the SCC’s decision in this case, no Virginia utility had an SCC-approved 100% renewable tariff in place. The Commission’s final order did not reference the tariff’s implications on retail choice.

The Commission’s final order also rejected the recommendation of the hearing examiner who conducted the evidentiary hearing. The hearing examiner recommended that the Commission deny the application because the proposal would result in “unjust and unreasonable” rates. The hearing examiner found that the evidence presented by APCo to support the application was “unsubstantiated” and based on outdated market prices for renewable energy.

Should you have any questions about this case, please contact one of our energy regulatory attorneys. The Code sections authorizing retail choice are discussed in our firm’s Virginia electric regulation guide.

Three Things an Entrepreneur Should Keep In Mind

Entrepreneurs are fascinating to me. They are tied to the mast by their own natures. They can’t do anything else but what they are doing. They have to create. Even when the most they get from friends, family, and the guy on the next bar seat is a cocked eyebrow, maybe even a yawn.

Most of the entrepreneurs I deal with have long come to terms with the way they are wired. To them, it’s just who they are.

As amazing as they are in their inspiration and knowledge base, they (like all of us) can often use a bit of perspective. As general corporate counsel, that’s a place I can make an impact. It’s my job to scan broadly to see the forest my client is walking through, and keep a closer eye for the falling tree that might hit him on the head.

While I am not a huge believer that something as complex as entrepreneurship can be reduced to lists, there are a few home truths that have emerged for me in doing this over and over again. It’s in the form of advice I could give any person looking to forge a business where there was nothing before.

THINK IN THE ALTERNATIVE.

An entrepreneur needs to be able to analyze a challenge along at least two separate tracks — Pro and Con, Option A and Option B, these assumptions and those assumptions. This is easy for a lawyer to say; it’s what we’re trained to do. (“I did not kill that man! But if I did, this is why I should get off.”) But you know what? We all need to do it from time to time, and someone starting a business from scratch really needs to do it.
Bill is the founder of a company that is developing a family of apps for use within the construction industry. He has always believed that the vertical he needs to focus on as the way into the industry is commercial banking. It’s the insight that got him into this venture and it’s what he’s always assumed would work best. But a friend who’s given good advice on this venture before is telling him that it’s the building trades, people on trucks like plumbers and roofers, who would adopt the product first and then evangelize it within the construction world. Bill’s intuition has done him well in life to this point, and he’s loath to step away from it now. In fact, not just “going with his gut” feels like a rejection of who he is. But Bill needs to be able to mentally take a moment and imagine a world where he’s wrong and his friend is right. He should play out both scenarios – from past first principles, through the present, and into the future. And he should do it without kicking and screaming. It’s a waste of energy.

You won’t lose yourself if you think in parallel. Your brain is big enough to keep control of the whole process and bring everything back in when it’s decision time.

EMBRACE THE LIKELIHOOD SOMEONE ELSE IS DOING THE SAME THING

I’ve sat across the table from several company founders who have given me the look of a deer in the beams of an approaching car when I’ve told them my cursory Google search has shown others are already operating in their space. In these cases the entrepreneurs have gotten so romanced with their own idea, and so deep into the feedback loop created by unexamined assumptions of uniqueness, that they’ve failed to consider that others are already there, or nearby.

There really are few new ideas under the sun. (And I plan to write a piece about why ideas, alone, are pretty worthless.) It only makes sense that in a world full of smart people who, receiving the same inputs and experiencing the same things as you, would hit on your idea.

A new company is the most compelling when it is the first to market to solve a pain – or, better put, the first to (i) solve the pain (ii) with a sustainable business model. It can also be pretty compelling when there are folks already doing what you do, but you have some special angle on it – which may be no more genius than really good branding or deep industry knowledge. You need to know which of these scenarios – commodity or non-commodity – apply to you before you can really have any business entering the marketplace. They are very different realities.

You can’t know any of this before you fall out of love with your idea for a brief moment and survey the landscape with a sharp and skeptical eye.

REALIZE THAT YOU ARE YOUR BEST PRODUCT.

You will probably abandon your original business concept. It’s natural, somewhat inevitable, and completely healthy. It’s not failure. It’s life. We didn’t get dating right the first time we tried it. When we finished a term paper in college it probably was about something different than when we wrote the first word of it. Reflective light technology revealed that Da Vinci first had Mona Lisa looking off to the side, without her half-smile.

The original idea is what gets you into the game. Without the original idea you wouldn’t have had the reason to start the journey. But it will almost certainly not be what your product or service actually turns out to be.

What will still be there is you. Which, to me, means that you are the real product.

Smart early-stage investors know it, or come to know it if they see enough deal flow. There are a lot of ideas, a million slices of the pie of industry – lots of places to do good work. Lots of opportunity. But there are only so many people really who have the persistence and character to think as clearly as spring water while at the same time wading chest-deep in muck. These people are pretty rare.

It’s rare because it’s hard. The born entrepreneur has a leg up, because he really has no choice but to work to become that person. He may not know that’s what he’s doing, but he’s doing it nonetheless.

If you would like more information on these entrepreneurial essentials or have an issue in business law, please contact me or any one of our Virginia corporate law attorneys.