Finance and project development

DRECP under review in an effort to alleviate burdens on energy development.

By Marc T. Campopiano, Joshua T. Bledsoe, Jennifer K. Roy, and James Erselius

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently issued a notice of intent to review the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) for potential burdens on domestic energy production in California. The BLM issued the notice on February 2, 2018, in response to Executive Order (EO) 13783, “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” EO 13783 was issued on March 28, 2017, and requires the heads of federal agencies to review all existing agency actions that “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.”

Finalized in 2016, the DRECP established a framework to streamline permitting for renewable energy projects on public lands in the California Mojave and Colorado/Sonoran desert region. The DRECP covers renewable energy development activities, including solar, wind, and geothermal projects, as well as transmission facilities that service renewable energy projects. As discussed in a previous post, concerns from local agencies, industry, and environmental groups caused state and federal agencies to narrow DRECP’s focus to public lands only.

The corresponding Land Use Plan Amendment (LUPA), issued when the DRECP was finalized, affects land use planning decisions for all of the 10.8 million acres of federal lands within the 22 million total acres covered under the DRECP. The LUPA set aside certain BLM-managed lands for conservation and recreation, and identified priority areas for renewable energy development. As detailed in a prior post, the approved LUPA designates 388,000 acres of Development Focus Areas, which are lands identified as having high-quality solar, wind, and geothermal energy potential and access to transmission. In addition to Development Focus Areas, the approved LUPA designates: 40,000 acres of Variance Process Lands for renewable energy development; approximately 6.5 million acres for conservation; approximately 3.6 million acres for recreation; and 419,000 acres of General Public Lands, which lack a specific land allocation or designation. A land use plan amendment is needed to develop renewable energy in General Public Lands areas.

New England wind farms poised to lead the way in utilities converting from fossil fuel to wind generation.

By Tommy Beaudreau, Janice Schneider, and David Amerikaner

The race is on to build the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in the United States (US) on the federal Outer Continental Shelf. In December, three companies — Bay State Wind, Deepwater Wind, and Vineyard Wind — submitted bids in response to the Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by the Massachusetts Electric Distribution Companies (Distribution Companies), in coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, to enter into long-term contracts for offshore wind energy generation off of the coast of Massachusetts. The RFP was issued pursuant to Section 83C of Massachusetts’ Act to Promote Energy Diversity. Under the RFP, the Distribution Companies required developers to submit projects of at least 400 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind power generation, while also considering projects generating up to 800 MW. This initial solicitation is part of a staggered procurement plan, in accordance with Section 83C, to acquire approximately 1,600 MW of aggregate offshore wind nameplate capacity by June 30, 2027.

Each of the submitting wind farm ventures holds a federal lease from the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) for areas in federal waters 15 to 25 miles offshore. All three bids propose wind farms south of the island of Martha’s Vineyard that would provide 400 MW of power, though some bids include alternate proposals on smaller or larger scales. Each bid also includes storage and transmission proposals, as the RFP required.

By Joshua T. Bledsoe and Kimberly Farbota

In a previous post, we described how potential delays in the resolution of the case commonly known as POET I could create uncertainty regarding the future of the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). On August 23, 2017, the Supreme Court of California issued an order: (1) denying California Air Resources Board (ARB)’s petition for review of the appellate decision in POET I; (2) denying ARB’s request for an order directing depublication of the associated opinion; and (3) remitting the case to the Fresno County Superior Court.

As we have discussed in previous posts, the POET I case arises from petitioner POET, LLC’s challenges to the original LCFS regulation adopted by ARB in 2009. On April 10, 2017, the Court of Appeal ruled that ARB had failed to faithfully execute a writ of peremptory mandate requiring it to remedy violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that occurred during adoption of the original LCFS. In response to a petition for rehearing filed by ARB, the Court of Appeal reissued its opinion on May 30, 2017. The revised opinion narrows the holding to focus more squarely on the facts of the case, but does not substantively alter the April 10, 2017 opinion. On July 10, 2017, ARB filed a petition with the California Supreme Court seeking depublication of the May 30, 2017 opinion, or in the alternative, Supreme Court review. In the petition, ARB argued that the decision should be depublished because it creates unnecessary confusion about how agencies and courts should address uncertainty under CEQA. ARB also argued that Supreme Court review could provide clarification regarding the standards by which compliance with a CEQA-related writ should be measured. As is common practice, the Supreme Court’s August 23, 2017 order did not provide the Court’s reasons for denying ARB’s petition and request.

By Joshua Bledsoe and Kimberly Farbota

Two recent developments in the interrelated legal challenges commonly known as POET I and POET II may create additional uncertainty for the future of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program (LCFS).

Earlier this year, the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District (Court of Appeal) issued two opinions in the POET I case, both of which were adverse to the California Air Resources Board (ARB). As we have discussed in previous posts, the POET I case arises from petitioner POET, LLC’s challenges to the original LCFS regulation adopted by ARB in 2009. On April 10, 2017, the Court of Appeal ruled that ARB had failed to faithfully execute a writ of peremptory mandate (the Writ) requiring it to remedy violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that occurred during adoption of the original LCFS. In the opinion, the Court of Appeal largely agreed with petitioner POET, LLC, finding that ARB failed to comply with CEQA’s requirement that it analyze the degree to which nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions would be impacted by implementation of the LCFS.

In response to ARB’s petition for a rehearing, the Court of Appeal reissued its opinion on May 30, 2017. The revised opinion narrows the holding to focus more squarely on the facts of the case, but does not substantively alter the April 10, 2017 opinion. In the revised opinion, the Court of Appeal assigned continuing jurisdiction to the Fresno County Superior Court (Superior Court) over POET I pending ARB’s completion of the revised NOx analysis and discharge of a reissued writ.

By Joshua T. Bledsoe and Max Friedman

As discussed in a previous post, the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District (Court of Appeal) ruled on April 10, 2017 that the California Air Resources Board (ARB) had failed to properly follow a writ of peremptory mandate (the Writ) requiring ARB to remedy violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that occurred during adoption of the original Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The Court of Appeal largely agreed with the petitioner, POET, LLC (POET), a South Dakota-based ethanol producer, holding that ARB had failed to comply with CEQA’s requirement that it analyze the degree to which nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from biodiesel fuels had been and would be impacted by the implementation of the LCFS. Indeed, the Court of Appeal found that ARB had acted in bad faith in selecting a definition of the “CEQA project” that failed to account for NOx emissions attributable to the original LCFS.

As a result, the Court of Appeal directed the Fresno County Superior Court (Superior Court) to deny ARB’s request for dismissal of the Writ and to set aside its 2015 approval of the CEQA analysis regarding NOx emissions from biodiesel until ARB had conducted a revised analysis. The Court of Appeal also froze the carbon intensity (CI) targets for diesel fuel at 2017 levels until ARB had completed its revised NOx assessment. The Superior Court implemented the Court of Appeal’s ruling on April 20, 2017, vacating its prior discharge of the Writ and modifying the reissued Writ as required by the higher court. However, on April 28, 2017 the Superior Court vacated its April 20th order as premature due to subsequent filings by ARB.

By Joshua T. Bledsoe and Max Friedman

In two recent posts, we discussed how California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) had been thrown into a state of potential upheaval by two interrelated legal challenges commonly known as POET I and POET II, including a recent oral argument before the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District (Court of Appeal) in POET I. That proceeding aimed to determine whether a lower court correctly dismissed a writ of peremptory mandate (the Writ) requiring the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to remedy violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that occurred during promulgation of the original LCFS regulation. ARB re-adopted the revised LCFS regulations in September 2015, but POET, LLC (POET), a South Dakota-based ethanol producer, contended that these revisions failed to properly discharge ARB’s responsibilities under the Writ.

Court Rules Against ARB over NOx Analysis

In its published April 10, 2017 opinion in POET I, the Court of Appeal largely agreed with POET, reversing the lower court’s dismissal of the Writ and holding that ARB had failed to comply with CEQA’s requirement that it analyze the degree to which nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from biodiesel fuels had been and would be impacted by the implementation of the LCFS rules. The Court found that ARB’s failure to properly define the scope of the project caused ARB to use an improper baseline against which NOx emissions could be measured. As a result, the Court concluded that ARB’s analysis of NOx emissions from biodiesel fuel was deficient under CEQA, and the environmental analysis was inadequate as an informational document disclosing the entirety of the project’s impacts.

By Joshua T. Bledsoe and Max Friedman

Big changes appear to be imminent for California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

As discussed in greater detail in our recent post, the LCFS currently is the subject of two interrelated legal challenges commonly known as POET I and POET II. Here we provide an update on recent proceedings before the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District (Court of Appeal) in POET I. These proceedings concern the California Air Resources Board’s (ARB) attempts to comply with a peremptory writ of mandate (the Writ) that primarily required ARB to remedy violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that occurred during promulgation of the original LCFS regulation.

On March 20, 2017, three days before oral argument occurred, the Court of Appeal issued a tentative ruling in the POET I Writ appeal. The tentative ruling alerted the parties that the Court of Appeal intended to overturn the Superior Court’s discharge of the Writ and suggested that some or all of the existing LCFS regulatory regime was in jeopardy. The tentative ruling found that ARB failed to comply with the Writ by excluding from its CEQA analysis information relating to nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from biodiesel, resulting in the utilization of an improper baseline for measuring NOx emissions. The tentative ruling also found that ARB’s treatment of NOx emissions was not a “good faith” attempt at corrective action because it relied on an objectively unreasonable interpretation of the CEQA term “project.” The Court of Appeal then further underscored its dim view of ARB’s response to the Writ: “ARB’s actions do not appear to be a sincere attempt to provide the public and decision makers with the information required by CEQA and omitted from the earlier documents.”

By Joshua T. Bledsoe and Max Friedman

Two related cases, advancing in parallel, have the potential to upend California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), whether via full suspension of the LCFS or carving out diesel fuels from the deficit and crediting regime.[1]

Both cases involve challenges by POET, LLC (POET), a South Dakota-based ethanol producer, against the LCFS rules adopted by the California Air Resources Board (ARB). ARB first adopted LCFS rules in 2009 and amended them in 2011, but these rules successfully were challenged by POET, leading the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District (Court of Appeal) on July 15, 2013, to find deficiencies in ARB’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review process.  The Court of Appeal issued a peremptory writ of mandate (Writ) in this case (POET I), requiring ARB to remedy legal defects in the initial adoption of the regulation, but opting to leave the LCFS in place while ARB reworked its analysis and repeated the necessary procedural steps and substantive analysis.  Over the next two years, ARB reviewed and revised the LCFS, before re-adopting the regulation on September 25, 2015.  Shortly thereafter, on October 30, 2015, POET once again brought suit in Fresno County Superior Court (Superior Court) to challenge the re-adopted regulations (POET II), arguing that ARB both failed to comply with the Writ issued in POET I and that it violated CEQA, the California Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the Health & Safety Code.

By Sara Orr, Bobbi-Jo Dobush and Francesca Bochner

On November 28, 2016, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) simplified Integrated Interagency Pre-Application (IIP) Process will go into effect.[i]

The IIP is a voluntary, pre-application process intended to streamline and improve the permitting and siting process for qualifying electric transmission projects. In an effort to increase efficiency, the IIP allows DOE to coordinate with applicable federal and non-federal entities to identify issues early in the process and before the developer submits a formal application.

Under the IIP, DOE is responsible for overseeing the IIP Process, coordinating the roles of other Federal entities and maintaining a consolidated administrative record. Developers may participate in two meetings with DOE and other federal and non-federal agencies (local, regional, and tribal stakeholders) to discuss potential issues with a project. While developers must still obtain all other necessary permits, the process is intended to minimize delays by involving all applicable parties from the outset. When the IIP process is complete, developers may submit their formal permit applications to agencies that have already had an opportunity to air concerns and suggest changes.

By Christopher W. GarrettDavid Amerikaner, Lucas I. Quass and Samantha Seikkula

In an opinion by Justice Kruger, the Supreme Court of California unanimously reversed the Court of Appeal in Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College District, Cal. Supreme Court, Case No. S214061 (September 19, 2016). The Court concluded the Court of Appeal erred in its application of a “new project” test in determining whether a subsequent or supplemental environmental impact report (EIR) is appropriate.

The Court held that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) does not authorize courts to invalidate an agency’s CEQA action when it proposes changes to a previously approved project, based solely on the court’s own independent evaluation of whether the agency’s proposal is a new project, rather than a modified version of an old one. Instead of focusing on a possibly abstract characterization of whether the project is “new” or “old,” the court must evaluate the lead agency’s determination of whether the previous environmental document retains any relevance in light of the proposed changes, and if any major revisions to the document are required due to the involvement of new, previously unstudied significant environmental effects. Importantly, the Court clarified