Verrill Helps Hancock Solar Project Obtain MDEP Permit, Protect Upland Sandpipers
The 14-megawatt Hancock Solar project in the town of Hancock, Maine has obtained its Site Law permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Verrill assisted the project with environmental permitting, which included the challenge of locating the 58-acre array entirely on blueberry barrens that function as prime habitat for upland sandpipers, a threatened species under the Maine Endangered Species Act. Verrill helped negotiate a mitigation package that will preserve a large tract of high-value upland sandpiper habitat near the project site. The 311-acre mitigation parcel will ensure continued nesting grounds for the sandpipers in Maine, which migrate every year from South America to breed. It was also the critical and final step in getting the project permitted.
Project construction is expected to begin in April 2021. The Maine Public Utilities Commission estimates that the project will save Maine ratepayers $4.4 million over 20 years. Hancock Solar is a joint venture between Maine-based Dirigo Solar and Dublin, Ireland-based BNRG Renewables.
Represented Summit Natural Gas in seeking Maine PUC approval of an accounting order to enable Summit to capitalize certain costs associated with its conversion rebate program for commercial customers.
Verrill represented a Connecticut utility in addressing the need for certain regulatory approvals for its acquisition by a large international energy company.
We represented Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) in a Maine PUC proceeding in which PSNH sought approval for its parent company, Eversource, to acquire a Connecticut water utility, Aquarion Water Company.
Energy: Acquisition of LDC
Verrill assisted with an investment fund with due diligence in regard to potential acquisition of a local gas distribution company. The scope of work included analysis of state regulatory environment for gas utilities and the process for seeking regulatory approval of the potential acquisition.
Acquisition of Paper Mill
Verrill represented an energy developer in its proposed acquisition of the real estate and electric generation assets of a former paper mill. We provided advice on federal and state regulatory laws affecting the client's acquisition and proposed operations, including maintaining Qualifying Facility status and avoiding public utility status at both the state and federal levels.
As part of Emera's plans to integrate its newly acquired subsidiary, Tampa Electric, with its existing operating utilities, including Emera Maine, Verrill obtained Maine PUC approval of two affiliate service agreements, permitting Emera Maine to purchase services from its new Tampa affiliate.
Arbitration of Gas Pipeline Dispute
Represented Woodland Pulp in securing a favorable arbitration award after a lengthy and contentious arbitration proceeding resolving a dispute between Woodland Pulp and a tenant over shared use and "balancing" of a private natural gas pipeline.
Arbitration of Hydro PPA Dispute
Represented a Maine utility in arbitratiion of a contractual dispute between the utility and a hydro facility owner arising under a long-term power purchase agreement. After a lengthy hearing, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the utility, finding that, even though the full output PPA provided only a single MWh price and referred only to energy sales, the utility purchased both the energy and capacity available from the hydro facility.
Energy: Assist Natural Gas Pipeline Company in Maine PUC Proceeding to Select a Provider of Natural Gas Capacity into New England
Since early 2014, our firm has successfully represented a large interstate pipeline company before the Maine PUC in advancing two significant new interstate pipeline expansion projects. The larger of the two projects was designed to provide a firm and reasonably priced source of fuel for natural gas-fired generators providing electricity to consumers in Maine and New England. The Maine PUC is charged with implementation of the Energy Cost Reduction Act, a 2013 law (in which the firm was actively involved) that authorizes the State to direct execution of a contract for new natural gas pipeline capacity. The so-called energy cost reduction contract, or ECRC, will provide financing for up to $75 million per year upon a finding that the contract’s benefits will outweigh its costs and that the contract is commercially reasonable and in the public interest.
After more than two years of extensive litigation, the Maine PUC selected our client’s project in July 2016 as the best option for an ECRC, and directed Maine’s transmission and distribution utilities to negotiate and execute of a contract for capacity on this project. The ECRC, which will be conditioned on regional participation on the project, and will enable the development of additional pipeline capacity needed to increase the availability and supply of natural gas into New England.
Verrill has guided the project through every stage of this extensive MPUC litigation, including researching, drafting, discovery, witness examination, filing briefs, motions, and testimony, and developing a successful strategy.
Bingham Wind Project
Verrill's environmental team successfully permitted the Bingham Wind project, which at 185 MW is the largest wind power project in New England. The project includes fifty-six 3.3 MW Vestas turbines, a transmission line, an O&M building, meteorological towers, and access roads and crane paths, which collectively required permits from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the towns of Bingham, Parkman and Abbott. Verrill continues to work with the project owner to ensure the long-term success of the project.
Certifications and Approvals for Pittsfield Solar, Which Will Be Largest Solar Farm in Maine When It Goes Into Service
In 2017, Verrill Dana represented Cianbro Development Corp. subsidiary Pittsfield Solar, LLC in obtaining regulatory approvals for a 9.9-megawatt ground-mounted solar array to be located on 54 acres in Pittsfield, Maine. Verrill helped Pittsfield Solar obtain community-based renewable energy project certification from the Maine Public Utilities Commission ("PUC"), Maine PUC approval for waivers relating to the interconnection and power purchase agreements between Pittsfield Solar and Central Maine Power Company, and Renewable Portfolio Standard certification. These processes involved critical negotiations with both the regulator and the utility. When fully in service, Pittsfield Solar will be the largest solar project in Maine by a factor of two. The first phase of the project will go into service in December 2017, while the remainder will go into service by spring 2018.
Champion of Wind Energy Projects
Verrill successfully permitted eleven wind power projects in Maine with an installed capacity of more than 1,000 MW. The team shepherded projects through the Land Use Regulation Commission, Department of Environmental Protection, Army Corps of Engineers, and multiple towns where project elements are located.
In the Bingham Wind project, Verrill permitted a 17 mile generator lead line that traversed organized and unorganized jurisdiction in Maine. The permits included a federal Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 permit, Maine Department of Environmental Protection Site Law and NRPA permits, as well as several local permits.
In the Saddleback Ridge Wind project, Verrill assisted Patriot Renewables in permitting 9.5 miles of generator lead in the towns of Carthage, Dixfield and Canton, Maine. The permits included a federal Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 permit, Maine Department of Environmental Protection Site Location and NRPA permits, utility location permits from the Maine DOT and the Town of Carthage, and a building permit from the Town of Dixfield.
Change of Control of Emera Maine
Verrill represented Emera Maine, and its affiliates Chester SVC Partnership and Maine Electric Power Company (the “Utilities”), before the Maine PUC with respect to the Utilities’ request for Commission approval of the change of control of Emera Maine resulting from ENMAX Corporation’s (an Alberta, Canada utility) proposed acquisition of Emera Maine. The case involved many parties, with diverse interests; voluminous discovery; and application of a new “net benefits” legal standard to the Commission’s decision.
Defending Arbitration Award
Verrill represented Woodland Pulp before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in successfully defending an arbitration award after a lengthy, contentious arbitration proceeding resolving a dispute between Woodland Pulp and a tenant over shared use of a private natural gas pipeline.
Defending Constitutionality of the Wind Energy Act
Verrill successfully defended permits in which the constitutionality of the Wind Energy Act was challenged as well as numerous decisions involving the interpretation and application of sound and scenic standards that govern wind energy developments.
Emera's Acquisition of Swan's Island Electric Cooperative
Emera's 2017 acquisition of Swan's Island Electric Cooperative required a multi-disciplined team of Verrill energy lawyers to successfully close the transaction. Because the seller was a member based cooperative, the transaction was structured as an asset purchase, rather than a stock purchase. This required a determination that the Cooperative had marketable title to hundreds of easements, many of which had been acquired by the Cooperative decades earlier. Upon investigation, the parties identified that there were over 200 easements to be acquired or confirmed for Cooperative power lines crossing private property. Tony Calcagni worked with the Cooperative management team for approximately one year to remedy the problems and procure valid deeds to the power line easements.
The acquisition also raised a novel question of utility ratemaking. Because of the high cost of serving the islands, the Public Utilities Commission raised the issue as to whether island ratepayers should pay more than Emera's mainland rates for electricity. In a two to one decision, the Maine PUC rejected the acquisition, finding that charging mainland rates to island customers would result in an unreasonable subsidy of island customers. In response, Bill Harwood and Brian Marshall, renegotiated the terms of the acquisition by including a five-year monthly surcharge on island ratepayers, and were thereby able to convince the Public Utilities Commission to approve the acquisition.
Energy: Energy Aggregation
We advised Maine Power Options (MPO), the energy aggregation arm of two quasi-state agencies, Maine Bond Bank and the Maine Health and Higher Education Facilities Authority, with regard to developing and administering a procurement process by which MPO selects an electricity marketer to supply MPO members. Verrill provides ongoing support to MPO with respect to the procurement process and energy contracting.
FERC Headwater Benefits Case
Secured a settlement on behalf of several downstream hydro owners in a FERC headwater benefits case that spanned 12 years and involved millions of dollars of claims between several major U.S. hydro developers owning hydro facilities on the Penobscot River. The case was complicated by several factors, including (1) a jurisdictional fight between the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and FERC after one of the parties filed for bankruptcy; (2) a contested 15-year-old settlement of a portion of the claim; and (3) multiple sales of both the upstream and downstream hydro facilities while the case was being litigated, resulting in multiple indemnification claims and defenses between the parties related to the underlying headwater benefits claims.
FERC Hydro License Compliance
Represented ENEL, an international leader in hydro power, before FERC in defending against a formal Section 206 Complaint by the City of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and various abutters, alleging that ENEL North America has violated the terms of its FERC hydro license by failing to maintain and repair the canals along the Merrimack River.Verrill successfully obtained a letter order from Commission Staff dismissing the complaint. After Complainants filed a request for rehearing, Verrill successfully opposed the request and obtained an order from the Commission denying in full the request for rehearing.
We represented Emera in obtaining Maine PUC approval of a number of bond issuances and bond re-financings for improvements to its T&D system.
Energy: Promotion of Heat Pumps
Verrill assisted a Maine utility in the development and passage of state legislation to allow T&D utilities to directly provide energy-efficient electric heat pumps to customers, provided the program lowers the life cycle electric costs of participating customers; is subject to rates set by the Maine PUC; and allows customers to choose their own installer.
Obtained Maine PUC approval for an LDC to create an affiliate to provide HVAC conversion services to prospective customers.
Secured state and federal environmental approvals for Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, LLC, to construct more than 200 miles of interstate natural gas pipeline facilities connecting New Brunswick to Massachusetts, as well as a subsequent expansion of those facilities.
Energy: Legislative Campaign to Oppose State Takeover of Electric Utilities
During the 2019 session of the Maine Legislature, Verrill took a leading role on behalf of our client Emera Maine in opposing significant legislation authorizing the State of Maine to take over and operate the assets of Emera Maine and Central Maine Power, Maine’s two investor-owned transmission and distribution utilities. If this bill were to pass, CMP and Emera Maine would cease to operate as investor-owned utilities. Our efforts to oppose the bill included developing and coordinating a coalition of stakeholders in opposition to the legislation; detailed research of similar efforts around the country; the preparation and distribution of fact sheets outlining our research and other data showing the challenges of a state takeover; the preparation and delivery of public testimony on the legislation; preparation of amendments to the bill; overseeing public polling and grassroots outreach efforts to oppose the bill; and the direct lobbying of legislators and state agencies. After nearly six months of work, the Legislature postponed action on the bill, and instead directed the Maine PUC to conduct a detailed study of the proposal and report back in 2020. Future efforts will focus on this study, and the potential for additional legislation on the proposal.
Local Transmission Planning Standards
Emera choose Verrill to represent it when the Maine PUC opened an investigation into certain local transmission planning standards applicable to Maine’s electric utilities. The standards or “safe harbors” are important tools in transmission planning that provide certain assumptions, such as estimating generation dispatch, that impact future reliability needs. Numerous parties participated at various stages of this lengthy proceeding, which was ultimately resolved through a Commission approved settlement.
Energy: Maine's First Private Natural Gas Pipeline
Assisted a large pulp mill secure legislation to authorize building a private natural gas pipeline that tapped into the Maritimes interstate pipeline to lower the mill's energy costs. To meet the client's schedule, we had to submit after-deadline emergency legislation and get the bill through the legislature and signed by the governor in just over three weeks.
Maine's First Private Pipeline
Secured regulatory approval for the state's first private natural gas pipeline, a direct connection from the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline serving Woodland Pulp LLC; and continues to represent Woodland Pulp in connection with shared use of the pipeline with another industrial consumer.
Verrill represented Emera in its 2016 distribution rate case before the Maine PUC. The case involved issues relating to significant new capital investments, including Emera's new customer information system and a controversial substation investment. In the midst of the rate case, the Maine PUC ordered a formal management audit of Emera's customer service and transmission and distribution operations.
2017 Emera Distribution Rate Case
Verrill represented Emera in its 2017 distribution rate case before the Maine PUC, which included: defeating Staff's proposed reduction to allowed return on equity for "management inefficiency;" approval of new expenditures, such as an enhanced vegetation management program; and recovery of increased storm restoration and employee benefits costs.
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