X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
It’s getting easier to be green. And more profitable. Just ask Edward Zaelke. The Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner graduated from law school in 1983 with an eye on starting a renewable-energy practice. In the late 1970s, the government had been keen to push legislation to curb the country’s dependence on foreign oil. But “as soon as I started practicing, the oil market crashed,” Zaelke recalled. And so instead of working on renewable-energy projects, Zaelke ended up working for big oil and energy companies. Today, it’s a different story. Zaelke, like most energy attorneys, is benefiting from a renaissance in the renewable-energy sector as high oil prices and new state and federal legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel power plants spur interest in alternative fuel sources. “Just in the past two years our renewable-energy practice has more than tripled in size and my own practice has more than doubled in size,” Zaelke said. “We are probably putting in the neighborhood of 22,000 to 25,000 hours in renewable-energy work and that’s triple what we were doing two years ago.” In the last few years, investors have put in as much as $5 billion on wind energy projects alone, according to Zaelke, president of the American Wind Energy Association. And wind is not the only alternative energy source on the move right now � solar energy and biofuel production such as ethanol are hot with investors, too. Morgan, Lewis represents more than 20 companies involved in the wind industry, including developers, lenders, manufacturers and private-equity providers. The firm says its lawyers have worked on deals adding up to billions of dollars. The firm recently represented Clipper Windpower in a strategic transaction with BP Alternative Energy. The deal is reportedly worth up to $4 billion in financings involving several hundred million dollars of secured debt, an equipment purchase transaction of more than $2 billion and several hundred million dollars in development projects. “We see potential growth in this area,” Zaelke said. “There’s a lot of money chasing a limited number of deals right now.” ALT.CULTURE California is at the center of the alternative-energy boom. In the last few years, the state has been leading the charge in creating government-sponsored incentive programs to boost alternative-fuel production and use. Aside from requiring public utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010, California lawmakers recently created an incentive program designed to put solar panels on 1 million roofs in the next 10 years. More recently, the state passed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The law requires the state to cut its emission of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to 1990 levels by the year 2020. And a pending ballot initiative in November may create even more investment in the sector. Proposition 87 would impose a severance tax on oil production in California to fund development and use of alternative energy technologies. In Silicon Valley, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and companies such as Applied Materials, Cypress Semiconductor and Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center are starting to pour money into the solar industry, focusing on manufacturing solar cells needed to convert sunlight to electricity. “The whole West Coast is experiencing a big boom on this and California has jumped a little ahead of the others,” said Peter Mostow, head of Stoel Rives’ renewable-energy practice. Mostow, who has been practicing in the renewable-energy field for 12 years, moved his practice to San Francisco from the firm’s base in Portland in August to take advantage of the boom. The 350-lawyer firm is known for its energy and environmental law practice. “So far, I’ve been like a kid in a candy store since I got here,” Mostow said. “This is a lot like the dot-com boom. We are experiencing just the beginning of a fairly fundamental economic revolution in the energy sector and California is taking the lead.” MONEY CHANGES EVERYTHING The influx of fresh capital in the alternative-energy sector is generating a huge volume of work for select law firms known for their energy practices. The type of work being generated is also the kind that law firms like: big projects that support a wide array of practices. Business and finance lawyers are getting calls from venture capitalists and private equity investors to vet investment deals in the area. Finance attorneys are also helping energy developers and lenders in financing new power plant projects. The environmental and real estate groups are also getting a piece of the action as understanding new environmental impact regulations and zoning laws becomes critical to the practice. Even intellectual property attorneys are getting substantial work as new technology gets licensed out to others. “This is a multidisciplinary practice,” said Michael Hindus, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. “I think, by and large, it takes a sophisticated firm that has all these practice groups to make a deal happen.” The influx of capital has encouraged new entrants in the market, Hindus noted, and this means a lot of the firms representing new companies are doing much more than the usual energy contracts and regulatory work. As a result, most of the big firms in the energy space are beefing up their ranks and are trying to sell soup-to-nuts services to companies. “I started out mostly doing regulatory work,” said Hindus, a 25-year veteran of the practice. “But now I am doing more transaction work and counseling work.” For example, Hindus has been representing solar energy startups, raising capital for them and doing other corporate work. Another significant change in the practice is the merging of energy and technology law. Because the industry is mostly dependent on new technology, licensing work abounds, said Latham & Watkins partner Adel Bebawy. Bebawy recently represented Rentech Inc., a subsidiary of DKRW Energy of Houston, Texas, one of the largest coal producers in the country, in licensing Fischer Tropsche technology. The technology enables the conversion of synthetic gas (which is extracted from coal) into liquid hydrocarbon products, including fuel. He also represented Pacific Ethanol, which is in the business of converting corn into ethanol, in licensing deals and relevant IP matters. “There is a heavy interplay between licensing a technology and financing and building a plant,” Bebawy said. EVERYONE’S GETTING IN ON THE ACT Morrison & Foerster’s IP group is also trying to exploit the intersection of energy and technology. The firm is planning to launch a Green Tech group consisting of IP and finance attorneys. Thomas Ciotti, co-head of MoFo’s venture IP group, said the practice is envisioned to help VCs in vetting deals. He said his group currently represents several companies involved in ethanol production, a company involved in battery production and they expect to soon represent another involved in diesel fuel production. The firm even registered Green Tech as a trademark for exclusive use in the legal services. “There is a substantial amount of VC interest and money going into alternative fuel technology,” Ciotti said. “In the near future we expect to see similar trends in water purification and waste disposal.” For Zaelke the energy boom feels like a professional vindication. “If you wait long enough and you stay focused and if you think you’re right, the rest of the world will catch up,” he said.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.