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Mark Hennigh is tilting his practice toward windmills. The transactional attorney spends almost half his time working on wind power projects around the United States. Once concentrated in California, wind turbines have been springing up in places as diverse as Texas, Iowa, Minnesota and upstate New York over the last three years. The recent boom in wind energy has been driven by increasing consumer interest in green power, state and federal tax credits, and the stable cost of such energy, said Hennigh, managing partner of the San Francisco-based transactional boutique Greene Radovsky Maloney & Share. “Wind is dirt-cheap compared to what is paid for natural gas.” Wind facilities also have become larger and more efficient. The newer turbines are 60-meter towers with blades that are two-thirds the size of a football field in diameter. “They’re almost like jet engines on top of towers,” Hennigh said. “They’re awe-inspiring.” Hennigh’s clients range from builders and operators of power plants to engineering firms and landowners. He helps with land acquisition, power purchase agreements, regulatory issues and construction matters. Hennigh got into the alternative energy arena by chance. As a young associate at the now-defunct Bronson, Bronson & McKinnon, he was sent out to meet a fellow who wanted to buy some land in Sutter Creek in California’s Gold Country. When Hennigh got there he found an 800,000-ton pile of coal left over from a factory that had made black shoe polish and carbon paper since the mid-1800s. The would-be client eventually built a power plant — using the coal to generate energy. Hennigh’s work on alternative energy projects has grown over the years. He and others from Bronson’s business department split away in 1984 to form Greene Radovsky. Several of his colleagues were involved in structuring partnerships for the development of wind farms. Initially, wealthy individuals seeking tax credits purchased wind farms. When the tax credits evaporated, companies began operating the facilities as a real business, Hennigh said. The first wind turbines were built in California during the 1980s, the largest of which was at Altamont Pass. By the early 1990s interest in wind energy had waned as state and federal investment credits expired and the energy crisis of the previous decade ended. About three years ago, however, the climate changed. Some states, such as Minnesota, began offering modest tax credits for alternative energy projects. And public utility commissions, such as that in Texas, now require that a certain percentage of power be derived from renewable energy sources. Consumers also have played a role in boosting wind energy projects. Hennigh said one of his clients, a small rural utility company in Minnesota, asked its customers if they would pay 10 percent more to fund a wind facility. So many people made binding commitments that the company was able to go forward with the project, Hennigh said. Despite the growing number of wind farms, only a fraction of 1 percent of energy in the United States is derived from wind. By comparison, Denmark, which pioneered the development of wind turbines, gets 13 percent of its energy from wind. “There’s really a large potential that hasn’t been tapped,” said Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based American Wind Energy Association. She said that given the economics of wind energy and the growth in facilities, the United States could derive 6 percent of its energy from wind by 2020. In addition to wind farms, Hennigh works on various other alternative energy projects, including biomass power plants. These facilities create energy by burning agricultural waste products such as hay, almond shells and orchard trimmings. For Hennigh, green energy offers a way to deal with a variety of problems, from reducing air pollution to cutting back the amount of material thrown into landfills. “It’s very enjoyable to say you are doing something that tries to answer problems and needs in multiple areas,” he said. His work on wind farms also gives him a different perspective on nature. “To hop in a pickup truck and ride along the crest of the hills is spectacular,” Hennigh said. “It’s you, the cows and the wind turbines. It’s quite spectacular.”

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