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U.S. EPA Approves ASTM E1527-13 for Application to the All Appropriate Inquiry Rule

Posted in Green Building

Effective December 30, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has amended its “All Appropriate Inquiries” Rule (AAI Rule) to reference the recently published American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) E1527–13 “Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process,” commonly referred to as the “ASTM Phase I Standard.” The amendment approves the use of the new standard for purposes of meeting the AAI Rule requirements.

The AAI Rule sets forth federal standards and practices related to evaluating a property and its environmental conditions, as well as assessing the likelihood of the presence of any contamination. Continue Reading

Cuomo Announces State Investment of $225 Million Toward the Buffalo High-Tech Manufacturing Innovation Hub

Posted in Investing

Buffalo, NY SkylineOn November 21, 2013, Governor Cuomo announced the state’s commitment of $225 million toward the creation of a clean energy research campus in Buffalo, New York. Referred to as the RiverBend project, the campus is slated for the former Republic Steel brownfield site along the Buffalo River and represents almost a quarter of the governor’s $1 billon pledge for state investment in Buffalo. The RiverBend project will develop high-tech facilities, with state-of-the-art equipment, for use by clean energy firms. The model consists of significant state investment in high-tech equipment and facilities that are in high demand and difficult for firms to acquire on their own. This approach was used in developing the state’s nanoscience research and development facility in the Capital District. Continue Reading

Solyndra Lives: Controversial Department of Energy Loan Program Will Continue

Posted in Renewable Energy

Unless you have avoided the news over the past two years, you have likely heard of Solyndrathe now bankrupt California-based solar panel makerthat received $535 million in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Loan Program Office (LPO). Since Solyndra’ s bankruptcy in 2011, some politicians have used it as a rallying cry against government tinkering in the free market and, to a certain extent, what they view as crony capitalism. This public backlash caused the administration to halt the DOE’s issuance of new loan guarantees under the LPOuntil now. Now that the Solyndra experience has cooled a bit, and Congress is focused on other big-ticket items like the Affordable Care Act, it was announced in late-September that the DOE’s controversial program will be revived. Continue Reading

Obama Climate Plan Rests on EPA’s Ability to Force Technology Improvements

Posted in Renewable Energy

Coal Power PlantCan the Clean Air Act be used to force technological improvements, even if that technology is at best under construction but not actually in existence in any place? With the Obama Administration’s climate control plans, the EPA asserts the answer is yes.

On September 20, 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its first steps under President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by reproposing the greenhouse gas new source performance standards for power plants. Under the proposal, new large natural gas-fired turbines (larger than 850 megawatts) would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines (less than 850 megawatts) and new coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. The proposed regulation of coal-fired units has specifically drawn intense criticism.

Opposition to the proposal has been based on both economic and technical grounds. Typical of the response was that of Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander: Continue Reading

Lithium-Ion Battery Prices Likely to Plummet, but Cost of Electric Cars May Be Slow to Follow

Posted in Renewable Energy

Aaron Saykin is a law clerk in Hodgson Russ’s Business Litigation Practice Group.

Electric car rechargingIf the leading industry experts are correct, prices for hybrid and electric vehicles should start to drop, but not nearly as much as you might expect.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the head of a major lithium-ion battery-maker revealed that his company plans to halve the cost of lithium-ion batteries for both hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles within the next six years at the 2013 Battery Show in Novi, Michigan, this month. Continue Reading

Solar Balance of System (BoS) Cost Continues to Be the Focus of Cost-Reduction Strategy

Posted in Renewable Energy

Solar powerSolar photovoltaic (PV) electricity has significant potential to contribute to U.S. energy needs. But the progress of this low-carbon energy source requires significant cost reductions if it is to fulfill its promise and play a significant role. As the cost of PV modules becomes an increasingly smaller piece of the total solar project cost, balance of system (BoS) cost has become a focal point of efforts to increase feasibility.

BoS includes all non-module elements of a PV system, including both soft and hardware costs. The soft costs comprise developer/installer business costs (such as customer acquisition costs, carrying costs, insurance, performance and payment bonds, incentive program participation, administrative costs, and labor) as well as financing and contracting costs, system design and engineering expenses, and costs related to permitting and interconnection. Hardware costs will include inverters, conduit, wiring, monitoring hardware, and mounting systems and fasteners.

While costs for PV modules have been decreasing, BoS has failed to keep pace. Continue Reading

Solar Power Facilities & Sales Tax Exemptions in New York State

Posted in Renewable Energy, Tax Incentives

Solar panelThe New York State Department of Taxation and Finance recently published an advisory opinion that explains how a sales tax exemption applies to equipment and related services used in a solar power facility. 

New York’s sales tax provides an exemption for “machinery or equipment used or consumed directly and predominantly in the production of …electricity… for sale” (N.Y. Tax Law § 1115(a)(12).  However, the machinery or equipment must be used “directly and predominantly” during the electricity production phase. After defining what constitutes the production phase, the opinion concludes that the facility components necessary to collect the solar energy and which are used to combine that electricity, up to the point the inverter changes the DC current to AC current, are used directly and predominately in the production of electricity for sale and therefore exempt. This equipment includes the solar panels, racks, combiner boxes, all wires and connections connecting these items to the inverter, and the inverter itself. The cost for installing such equipment is also exempt from sales tax. The supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system is exempt from tax so long as it used directly and predominantly in the operation of the solar facility. 

However, the opinion also states that the transmission or distribution of electricity is outside the production process. Continue Reading

Will President Obama’s Climate Change Policy Impact the 2014 Midterm Elections?

Posted in Renewable Energy

Smokestacks of a Coal-Burning Power PlantPresident Obama has recently set forth an aggressive vision for addressing climate change, containing policies for both mitigating the harms and adapting to unavoidable impacts. In addition to the familiar themes of increasing renewable energy production and improving energy efficiency, the president also discusses preparation for the impacts of climate change through greater preparedness and creating more resilient communities and infrastructure. But the focus of attention has been on the plan’s major policy initiative: reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants

While increased wind and solar generation is a key component, the most feasible route to the president’s carbon emissions target is substantially reducing current power plant carbon emissions by switching fuels from coal to natural gas. This “crackdown on coal,” is expected to impact states where Senate seats are being vacated by retiring Democratic incumbents. For example, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Tim Johnson of South Dakota are leaving open seats in deeply red states, both of which have significant coal industries. Similarly, the president’s policy could have negative implications for weak incumbent Democrats like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.  Continue Reading

An End to Range Anxiety

Posted in Renewable Energy

In the late 90’s, my wife and I—then two engineers working in the automotive industry—flew to Los Angeles for a wedding. While waiting in line to rent a car, we noticed a poster showing that we could rent GM’s electric car, the Saturn EV1, for only dollars more per day than other cars. We decided to go maximum geek and try one out. That week, we learned a few things, like driving an electric vehicle in L.A. will get you noticed, and parts of L.A. have a lot of hills (and even more traffic).

We also learned a term called “range anxiety”—the fear that comes with knowing your car has limited range with no quick way to recharge. Our first inkling of what was to come was during the rental process, when the counter agent gave us a map of charging stations around the metro area and a card with the number for an emergency tow service just in case we exhausted the car’s range. Despite the fairly impressive availability of public charging stations, we spent the week driving with one eye on the map and another on the remaining range.

Our range anxiety reached its peak during the wedding service at a church on a hilltop, when we realized that we would need to descend the hill and climb the other side to get to the reception. Sadly, I asked a cousin to drive with me back to our hotel so that we could switch to a gas-powered car. Continue Reading

State Renewable Portfolio Standards Under Attack by State Legislatures

Posted in Renewable Energy

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are under attack. This may sound surprising to some, especially considering the upsurge in public consciousness regarding the development of clean and green technologies. But in statehouses across the United States, debates are ongoing regarding the need for RPSs, largely due to the increasingly lower prices for certain traditional energy sources, such as natural gas. As these prices continue to fall, many states—including those with significant traditional energy production—will continue to question the necessity of such standards. A recent article in Bloomberg helps illustrate this point.

Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have RPSs, and another 7 states have non-binding goals. Generally speaking, these standards/goals require utilities in the state to obtain a portion of their power capacity or generation from renewable sources by a date certain. Depending on the state, and the relevant political atmosphere, the standards/goals may be minimal or quite aggressive. For instance, the California RPS, which was created in 2002, and was later expanded in 2011, requires privately-owned utilities, electric service providers, and community choice aggregators to increase their use of renewables to 33 percent by 2020. Continue Reading