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The GreeneHurlocker Blog

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.

Update on Supplier Consolidated Billing in Maryland

Maryland State House (side)

Maryland State House (side) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last fall, Brian Greene discussed the Maryland Public Service Commission’s retail energy supplier consolidated billing proceeding. The Commission is considering supplier consolidated billing as an additional billing option for Maryland customers, alongside the existing utility consolidated billing and dual billing options. With supplier consolidated billing, customers would receive a single bill from their competitive retail supplier that includes both the electricity and natural gas supply charges (from the competitive supplier) and the utility’s transportation and distribution charges.

Under the existing billing paradigm in Maryland, the vast majority of customers receive a consolidated bill from their utility that includes both the energy supply charges and the utility’s transportation and distribution charges. Supplier consolidated billing would flip that model, enabling the competitive supplier to bill the customer, with the flexibility to expand product and service offerings. More information on the details of the proposal are available in the Petition and Reply Comments filed by the petitioning retail energy suppliers (NRG Energy, Inc., Interstate Gas Supply, Inc., Just Energy Group, Inc., Direct Energy Services, LLC, and ENGIE Resources, LLC).

In November 2017, stakeholders submitted extensive comments discussing the benefits and potential risks associated with the supplier consolidated billing proposal. Copies of the comments are publicly available in the Commission’s docket for Case No. 9461.

Following submission of the written comments, the Commission held a legislative-style hearing on February 20th and 21st. Here is a short summary of the two-day hearing:

  • The hearing began with a presentation from the Petitioners in support of supplier consolidated billing. The panel presented and answered questions from the Commissioner for about 2.5 hours.
  • Maryland’s distribution utility stakeholders followed the Petitioners, presenting their views on SCB and responding to the Petitioners’ presentation.
  • Following the utilities, a competitive retail energy supplier panel offered support for SCB, with some offering tweaks to the proposed program.
  • The next panel included public sector stakeholders from the Maryland Energy Administration and Montgomery County offering support for the proposed supplier consolidated billing program and suggestions regarding some of the program details. The Maryland Office of People’s Counsel also presented, discussing what it perceives as potential risks of the program.
  • Commission Staff rounded out the presentations, discussing the merits of the SCB proposal, offering support for the concept and at least one recommendation to alter the proposal.
  • The hearing concluded with the Petitioners offering a few final comments responding to some of the points raised by other stakeholders during the hearing.

After concluding the hearing, the next step is for the Commission to take further action on the proposal. If you are interested in the pending SCB petition in Maryland or any related competitive retail energy market issues, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Appearing at the MPSC Hearing: From L to R – Brian Greene, Mike Starck (NRG Energy), Duncan Stiles (Just Energy), Tami Wilson (IGS Energy), and Alex Donaho (Direct Energy).

Words Matter in the Heart of the Deal

Lawyers trade in words.  It goes beyond dropping Latin phrases like ipsi dixit (“a dogmatic and unproven statement”) and nunc pro tunc (“now for then”) into legal briefs.  It is part of the business law as well.  Attorneys write into their contracts musty-looking words that are meaningful to them (like “hereby” and “therefor”) to telegraph something to the lawyers on the other side and to courts who might interpret the document years later.

Adherence to customs like this is tied to the fact that lawyers live in a world where the consequences of imprecision can be a serious matter.   There are two ways to accomplish precision: write with rigorous terseness that no one can misunderstand or throw up a fence of words that hems in an unruly concept so tightly that it can’t escape.

Representations, warranties, covenants and conditions are found in most commercial contracts of any complexity, such as shopping center leases and an asset purchase agreement.  These provisions are, or at least should be, sources of comfort to the parties to a contract, because they can greatly reduce the risk that arises from the unknown.   But they are often glossed over by the principals in a deal – perhaps perceived as another lawyerly way of saying the same thing in four different ways.

The contractual basics of offer, acceptance and consideration are usually dispensed with at the top of the book – the first two or three pages of the contract.  These provisions establish the “what” of the deal.  A few pages in come the provisions in which the parties represent to each other that certain facts are true, warrant that a set of facts are accurate, covenant to do things and not do things, and state the conditions on their performance under the contract.  These sections answer the question of “why.”  The representations, warranties, covenants and conditions, and the indemnification and remedy provisions that interact with them, lay bare the reasons for the deal – the preconceptions of the parties.  This is why these provisions are usually negotiated with a high level of precision, whether the method is the rigorous terseness or the high fence of words.

The four concepts are distinct but interrelated.

  • A representation is an assertion of fact that is given by one party to another party to induce that party to enter into a contract, close on the contract, accept the risks inherent in the deal, or take some other action. If the representation of fact is untrue, it is inaccurate, and the remedies for misrepresentation set forth in the contract are available, which could include undoing the contract.   The contract sets the remedies.
  • A warranty is a promise that the facts asserted are true, which is impliedly supported by a promise to make it right if it isn’t true. If the warranted facts are untrue, it is a breach of contract, which, technically, is different than misrepresentation.
  • A covenant is a promise made by a party to take certain action, or refrain from acting. Not doing as promised is a break of contract, and the contract will usually say specifically what the remedies are.
  • A condition is a fact that must be true or an event that must have occurred before a party’s obligations or rights are triggered.

Representations and warranties, while technically different concepts, are so closely related to each other in practicality that it is excusable that the two words are written and spoken as a couplet, as with “over and done” and “peace and quiet.”    Some commentators point out differences, such as that the former is about the past and the latter is about the future.  At the end of the day, though, the distinctions are not important.  Courts often ignore the difference between the two terms, and a contract usually provides the same remedies for both.

Quite a bit is going on with representations and warranties in a corporate acquisition agreement.  They apportion risk.  They create direct claims in the case of inaccuracy.  They form the basis of the parties’ indemnification obligations.  And, they are informational.  The disclosure schedules that lay out the exceptions to the statements of fact will often increase the size of the document to the width of the Hamilton biography or beyond, because it’s in the schedules that the details of the to-be-acquired company are set forth, dialoguing with the legal, financial tax due diligence that the acquirer has undertaken.

Covenants are often intermingled with the representations and warranties – for example, when the party represents and warranties that certain facts will be true at some moment in time in the future.   This is not usually a conscious choice, and for a variety of good reasons (often having to do with clarity as to what remedies apply to what breaches), mixing these concepts together should be avoided.  It is best to keep the future – the realm of covenants — separate from the present and past – the realm of representations and warranties.

Conditions in a contract are critical because they provide the “outs” that a party needs to have in something as complex and nuanced as a corporate acquisition agreement or the contract to purchase an office complex.  The list of things which must be true to finally and inalterably bind a party to close on such a deal is long, and among the most important of them will be that the reps and warranties are accurate as of the closing date and that all actions that the other party has covenanted to take have been taken.

Some say that the only time contracts are necessary is when everything is falling apart.  If that is true, then representations and warranties, covenants, and conditions – and the thick disclosure schedules and indemnification and remedy provisions they spawn – are truly at the beating heart of the business deal.

Delaware Sets Hearing for Retail Market Enhancements

The Delaware Public Service Commission has established a March 8, 2018 hearing date to consider retail choice enhancements.

The Delaware General Assembly meets in the Leg...

The Delaware General Assembly meets in the Legislative Hall in Dover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The enhancements include a purchase of receivables program; “seamless moves” where customers may move within the utility service territory and maintain their supplier; “ instant connects” where customers may sign up with a supplier on their first day of service; an “enroll with your wallet” program where customers may enroll with a supplier without the use of their utility account number or other utility-assigned identifier; improvements to the Commission’s shopping website; and utility bill inserts to promote choice.

The proceeding has been pending since the end of 2015 when the Electricity Affordability Committee created by the Delaware General Assembly filed a petition with the Commission. Since that time, the parties have filed written comments and participated in working group meetings. Also, the case was stayed for a period of time while the parties and the Commission finalized amendments to the Delaware Electric Supplier Rules.

The case will be heard before a hearing examiner. The primary participants in the case are the Staff of the Commission, Delmarva Power, the Delaware Public Advocate, and the Retail Energy Supply Association (RESA). GreeneHurlocker is representing RESA in the proceeding.

For more information, please contact one of our regulatory attorneys.

ALERT: Trump Imposes Tariff on Solar Module Imports

Client Alert

Section 201 Proceeding Announcement:

 On Monday January 22, the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced and on January 23, President Trump signed am executive order to provide relief to U.S. manufacturers and impose safeguard tariffs on imported solar cells and modules, based on the investigations, findings, and recommendations of the independent, bipartisan U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC).

The U.S. Trade Representative recommended, and the President chose to take action by applying, the following additional duties on imported solar cells and modules:

Year 1:                  30%
Year 2:                  25%
Year 3:                  20%
Year 4:                  15%.

The first 2.5 gigawatt of imported cells are excluded from the additional tariff.  We are continuing to monitor the imposition of these duties and will provide additional information on our website as available.  If you have any questions, please contact any of our renewable energy or administrative law attorneys.

Energy Secretary Perry Concerned With Grid Resiliency

Eric Wallace covers the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) sent by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in regard to grid resiliency.

Virginia Moves Forward with Carbon Cap and Trade Plan

But some uncertainties remain.

coal-fired plant in VirginiaOn Thursday, November 16, the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board unanimously approved a draft rule designed to reduce carbon emissions from fossil generating facilities operating in the Commonwealth. The highly complex regulation, if implemented, would require Virginia generating facilities to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”) trading system. The regulation will be administered by the Air Board and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”).

Following the publication of the rule, which is expected to occur in December or early January, 2018, there is a 60-day period in which the public and interested parties may provide comment on the rule. Following this public comment period, the Air Board would vote on the final rule in 2018.

The proposed rule would establish an initial statewide carbon cap of either 33 or 34 million tons, which represents the amount of carbon dioxide forecasted to be emitted in the Commonwealth in 2020. The carbon rule does not require generators to purchase emissions allowances from the Commonwealth in an auction, thus avoiding a state requirement that all revenue-raising measures must be approved by the General Assembly. Instead, generators will be freely allocated allowances, which they will thereafter consign to the RGGI auction.

Allowances purchased at the RGGI auction would no longer be conditional – meaning that generators will surrender these RGGI allowances to DEQ in order to cover their emissions. For each conditional allowance consigned to the auction, the generator will receive the clearing price of the auction. This allows generators to consign all of their conditional allowances but only purchase what they need.

Under the rule, therefore, utilities and other power plant operators would have an incentive to reduce emissions to avoid having to purchase additional allowances. Any unneeded emissions allowances must be sold in the RGGI trading system, with the proceeds credited to Virginia utility customers. However, the rule does not specify precisely how such proceeds would flow back to consumers.

The regulation would only apply to generation facilities that are 25 MW or larger in capacity. There are approximately 32 such facilities in Virginia that will be subject to the rule.

Between 2020 and 2030, the statewide carbon cap would be reduced by 3 percent each year, meaning that generating facilities would either need to reduce emissions or purchase additional emissions allowances.

The draft regulation represents the first time Virginia has attempted to regulate the amount of carbon that may be emitted by existing power plants. DEQ has regulated carbon emissions from new power plants since 2011.

Attorney General Mark Herring, in an official opinion issued in May, 2017, found that a carbon cap and trade program would be lawful. The Attorney General found that the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board, under existing law, is “authorized to regulate ‘air pollution’” and to promulgate regulations “abating, controlling and prohibition air pollution.” Under Virginia law, “air pollution includes “substances which are or may be harmful or injurious to human health, welfare or safety, or to property.” The Attorney General also stated that “it is well settled that [greenhouse gases] fall within this definition.”

Virginia’s regulation will take the place of the federal Clean Power Plan, which is in the process of being repealed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Please contact one of our regulatory attorneys should you have questions about this draft rule.

SE Renewable Energy Conference 

Great two days in Atlanta with solar and wind developers, financiers, regulators and utilities discussing state of the market in the Southeast.  New tax reform and panel tariff cases at the forefront of discussions.  If you would like an update on the conference or have other renewable energy development questions, don’t hesitate to contact one of our energy lawyers.

Dominion Issues RFP for New Solar and Wind Energy

wind turbines and solar arraysEarlier this week Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) released a request for proposals (“RFP”) for 300 MW of new solar and onshore wind energy. The company is seeking to either sign power purchase agreements or purchase renewable energy projects that are under development. The facilities must be capable of producing power by 2019 or 2020.

Dominion released its RFP after announcing that it will offer a new renewable energy tariff (“Schedule RF”), which the company intends to file with the State Corporation Commission in the coming weeks. Schedule RF is intended to serve Facebook, which is building a one million square foot data center in eastern Henrico County, and other large commercial customers. Under the proposed Schedule RF tariff, participating customers would purchase the renewable energy attributes of new facilities that are added to the grid.

Notices of intent to bid are due by 5:00PM on October 27, 2017, and responses to the RFP are due on December 1, 2017. The RFP directs bidders to provide their best and final price when providing a proposal. In addition to the price, the RFP document states that Dominion will consider “non-price” criteria when evaluating proposals, including the economic development impacts for Virginia and the financial strength of the firm submitting a bid.

For more information about this RFP or the regulations affecting renewable energy development in Virginia, please contact one of our renewable energy lawyers or regulatory attorneys.

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.