ROI-NJ Thought Leaders: Energy/Environment Law

Kenneth Sheehan; Rebecca Moll Freed
Counsel; Partner
Genova Burns

The energy market is ‘hot,’ pardon the pun. Give us a challenge — and an opportunity — you are advising your clients on.

The role of the traditional energy companies in the transition to the clean energy environment remains both a challenge and an opportunity. Even as we move to a clean energy future, the utilities in the state must continue to play a role in the transition, and must be given a path to allow that to happen while still remaining viable. This need provides a number of opportunities for individual developers and other interested parties to work with the utilities as partners where possible, and in cooperation when not possible. The clean energy transition will need to be all-hands and all-technologies. The transition will not happen overnight, and we must remember that reliability remains a key component of our energy infrastructure. I often advise clients that, if the state is not interested in an individual project, plan or technology, the opportunity to work with the utility should not be ignored. 

Energy policies tend to change with administrations. The next gubernatorial election is still two years away — is that close enough to give pause to big projects?

The timing of the next gubernatorial election is a consideration in that so much of the current energy policy in the state has been driven by the current governor. Anyone looking for a multiyear project that depends upon the state’s support needs to at least think about what may happen as the Executive Branch changes — even within the same party. The office of governor in New Jersey is one of the most powerful statewide offices across the county. The New Jersey governor has the ability to appoint a president of the Board of Public Utilities, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection and to direct the Energy Master Plan that will likely drive litigation and compliance requirements for new and current owners of facilities that can be seen as causing an environmental impact upon a community — and this includes power generation facilities. The best advice is to make absolutely sure that you have developed a good relationship with the community and have developed a commitment to build and renovate in a manner that the community supports (or, at least, doesn’t actively oppose). While not enough to guarantee approval through the DEP, having open lines of communication with the community will make a significant difference in the tenor of the process.

What is the biggest issue facing energy/environment moving forward — and how are you advising your clients on it?

 Politics, politics and politics. New Jersey and New York each upping their offshore wind number is great and builds the market, but even better in a policy sense would be New Jersey and New York working to develop a regional offshore wind process, whereby both states maximize benefits through cooperation rather than competition. This balkanization of clean energy policy and development ensures that there is always a place for arbitrage and, while regionalization and cooperation would be best for the development of a full clean energy environment, the current approach is best for maximizing incentives and opportunities for individual projects. As such, developers should be thinking about both: How to work to get a larger industry in the long run while maximizing their individual chance to build and develop here and now.

Give us one more thought on a topic of your choice.

Do not ignore the need, role and impact of transmission and PJM in driving New Jersey policy and development. While this current administration has had its ups and downs with PJM, the need for transmission has remained consistent, and it is PJM that plays the key role in planning, approval and allowing this development to move forward. As seen in the past and current State Agreement Approach for the development of an offshore wind energy backbone, the state recognizes that the development of transmission will be key to the effective and efficient development of offshore wind. If you are concerned about the ability to transmit electricity in the states, as a developer, utility or even end-use customer, pay attention and get involved in the PJM process, as it drives decisions well beyond what it may first seem.