Varnum hosts Great Lakes Renewable Energy meeting

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

When Jennifer Alvarado of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (GLREA) contacted Varnum Partner Bruce Goodman for recommendations of a good restaurant to hold its West Michigan chapter meeting, Goodman suggested the Varnum offices instead.

And so it happened that dozens of people interested in some aspect of renewable energy landed at Varnum’s Bridgewater Place offices last Wednesday.

All of the evening’s speakers thought this was a very good thing.

Goodman said that only seven of the over 100 attendees were lawyers. The remainder were renewable energy advocates, researchers, or business people with great project ideas.

Goodman is serious about moving the alternative and renewable energy field forward, at least in part because he sees a wide open field of opportunity for his clients.

He practices in the areas of environmental law, including air quality permitting, compliance counseling, and environmental management program development; energy law such as negotiating electric power sales agreements, permits, and developing municipal energy; and construction law, drafting and negotiating construction contracts, including on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings.

Goodman, who received his J.D. from University of Michigan Law School, writes an energy newsletter called Watt’s New?  and was designated a 2010 Thought Leader in the Law for energy industry work by West Michigan Business Review.

Goodman spearheads a weekly work group which meets on a variety of subjects from wind to biofuels, and participates in other similar groups.

Rick Chapla is Vice President of Business Development for The Right Place, which has been working to draw viable businesses to the Grand Rapids area since 1985 and which co-sponsored the event. He is one of the people in whose company Goodman finds himself frequently.

Chapla spoke briefly to the gathering about how firmly he believes West Michigan is the right place for alternative energy businesses to thrive. “This isn’t wacky science,” he said, “this is fundamental good business that we’re going to grow in West Michigan.”

A December 2007 report commissioned by The Right Place and the West Michigan Strategic Alliance determined that there was likely to be a market worth about $800 million that could be reached by developing renewable energy sources in West Michigan over the three to five years ending in 2012.

The total nationally was about $161 billion, but the report authors said that the local area has the most capacity in solar and wind energy development, including manufacture, so limited its scope to those.

The report can be found on the web at http://www.wm-alliance.org/documents/news_items/Alt_Energy_Cluster_Analysis_FINAL.pdf.

Chapla then introduced Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, nationally known for his successful sustainability initiatives, particularly in the area of renewable energy.

Heartwell said that he has been very frustrated by the slow pace renewables have taken. In 2004, when he took office, Heartwell vowed that the city would use renewable sources for 20% of its energy needs by 2008, and the city met that goal in 2007. He then set 100% as a goal for 2020.

He told the gathering that, although he sees that goal as quite achievable, he has also observed a lot of factors, mostly political, standing in the way of progress. As of now, the city’s renewables percentage has only increased slightly from 2007, and that is mainly because of energy efficiency and conservation reducing the total.

The city wanted to site a wind project at its water filtration plant at the end of Port Sheldon Road, off of US-31, but was thwarted because wealthy landowners close to the site did not want such a project in their back yards.

The need for stringent policy change to make renewable energy viable was underscored by Kali Fox, who is the Mid-Michigan Regional Manager for U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, as well as the senator’s state energy and agriculture coordinator.

Fox went to Grand Valley State University and started her employment with Stabenow as an assistant to in West Michigan. She said she is always happy to see the growth of Grand Valley, which developed the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center, a key player on the West Michigan scene.

Fox noted that it is quite unlikely that Congress, in its current state of impasse, will enact a national energy policy law any time soon. She talked about Stabenow reintroducing Energy Star-appliance-related bills and other consumer incentives.

Stabenow has already introduced a bill to offer a $7500 rebate to consumers, and a tax credit to businesses, who purchase electric vehicles.

Goodman discussed a Feb. 15 report by the Michigan Public Service Commission on its implementation of Public Act 295, which introduced the state Renewable Portfolio Standard and included other energy mandates. The report is found at www.michigan.gov/
documents/mpsc/Report_on_Implementation_of_PA_295_RE_345746_7.pdf.

Finally, GLREA’s Alvarado said that her discussion with Lansing political leaders has led her to believe that, despite rollback rumors, PA295 is not likely to be reopened.

Alvarado vowed that her organization will continue to work hard to ensure that “Michigan is open for renewable energy business.”

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