BLJ: Barclay Damon sees future in renewable energy

Monday, November 20, 2017

Source: Buffalo Business First

Barclay Damon sees a future in renewable energy. 

In recent months, four attorneys from boutique firm McCauley Lyman in Massachusetts were added to the workforce, bringing more than three decades of combined experience in wind and solar energy projects. Don McCauley, Frank Lyman, Jill Winans and Michael Blasik will remain partners at McCauley Lyman while joining Barclay Damon as of counsel.

Barclay Damon also acquired Gilberti Stinziano Heintz & Smith P.C., an environmental energy firm in Syracuse.

It’s a sign that Barclay Damon sees renewables as playing a significant role in the way energy is used around the country. 

“The energy field in particular is one we’ve always focused on because it’s always growing,” said partner Brenda Colella, co-leader of the renewable energy team. “One of those areas is renewable energy. Our strategic partnership with McCauley Lyman is something we’re hoping to take advantage of to grow our practice more in that area of energy growth.”

New York state has been a leader in renewable energies, McCauley said. That extends into Western New York in both solar and wind energies. 

“The state is highly committed to renewable energy,” he said. “It’s been an effective way to bring development to Upstate New York. We really think renewable energy is a very important part of the economic future for Western New York, as well as the whole state.”

As renewable projects grow in the area, issues with real property tax law have come up, Colella said. 

“There’s a provision in the real property tax law that would allow for exemption of a solar facility itself,” she said. “The localities can opt out of that exemption, and there’s a process that they have to follow. We’re finding that there a lot of localities that don’t understand that provision of the real property tax law. The developers don’t necessarily understand it, either. It’s been a real source of confusion.”

As the electrical grid changes over from fossil-fuel plants, the grid will be made up of more scattered resources utilizing renewables, McCauley said. More technology will be involved, and management of the grid will be more responsive and flexible. 

“We’re looking at a real transformation of the industry,” he said. 

More education on the changes needs to be provided to consumers, he said. The changes will inevitably touch upon various aspects of the law. It’s one of the reasons partnering with Barclay Damon was attractive to McCauley Lyman.

“It brings in all sorts of specialties,” he said. “Real estate, environmental assessment – it’s a wide range of issues that needs to be brought into play as we’re embarking on a new structure of the electric industry.”

In the case of wind energy, projects involving wind turbines often face opposition from residents of the municipality chosen for the project. For instance, a proposed wind project in Niagara and Orleans counties generated resistance from residents who worry about everything from noise to disruption of migratory bird routes. 

“Wind projects bring that up much more,” McCauley said. “Solar, we see that much less.”

Wind works well in agricultural areas and provides an added level of income for farmers, he said.

Solar is compatible with other projects in developed areas and can be placed on rooftops and carports. Issues may involve integrating different levels of ownership within a building, depending on the size and scale of the project.

“A building owner can often use some help on it,” he said.

Part of the challenge is the mix of incentives for projects at the federal, state and local levels, he said. 

“That’s where a lot of the help people need in understanding how to integrate all of these different areas together,” he said.  

Part of President Donald Trump’s platform is bringing back fossil-fuel energy, without the emphasis on renewables that the Obama administration had. Despite the rhetoric, McCauley said renewable energy is already strong and providing jobs, even in Republican parts of the country. 

“Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa are some of the strongest states in wind energy in particular,” he said. “There is a really strong support across the country in different sectors for the development of these wind resources, even though the focus of the federal government has changed.”

In fact, he said, the change in tone at the federal level has intensified efforts by “concerned people” to increase their purchases of renewables. 

“I think the renewables business will stay strong,” he said. “Obviously, changes in policy, changes in tax treatment by the Trump administration will affect the development. In terms of long-term view, renewables have certainly grown to become part of the mix.”

Colella said states will be “stepping up” to seek actions that encourage the development of renewables, should they be discouraged at the national level. 

“New York state is doing that already and will continue to do that with the current administration in New York,” she said. “They have the mandate of 50 percent renewable by 2030. I think under the current administration, they’re really going to continue to push for that.”

Aside from facilitating new technologies, New York is assessing how the industry will be run going forward, McCauley said. 

In Western New York, some projects involve the use of brownfields for renewable-energy sites, he said. 

“You can really create a win-win with some of these things,” he said. 

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