Professor shares expertise in renewable energy field

 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
 
Attorney Paul Astolfi grew up in an immigrant family of steelworkers. 
 
“My grandparents taught me at an early age that education and the law in particular were the way out of the mill,” he says. 
 
After receiving his undergrad degree in political science from the University of Massachusetts, Astolfi went on to earn his J.D. from Michigan Law School in 2000. 
 
“I was one of the lucky few who really enjoyed law school,” he says. “I had wonderful teachers – Jim White and the late Brian Simpson among them. The raw intellect they demonstrated and the apolitical approach to academic debate were both extraordinarily positive influences on me.” 
 
Astolfi has returned to his alma mater this semester to teach a practical course in renewable energy law – his first time teaching as an adjunct professor. 
 
“I enjoy the challenge of introducing new concepts to students—the challenge of transferring one's knowledge,” he says. “Also, Michigan asked me to teach a course. You don’t say no to Michigan.”
 
The Detroit native, who now lives in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, will commute to Ann Arbor on Fridays to teach the class. 
“I'll enjoy being back in Ann Arbor and look forward to grabbing breakfast at Angelo’s,” he says. 
 
Astolfi, who writes and speaks regularly on energy and finance issues, specializes in renewable energy project development and finance, with an emphasis on wind and solar energy. He landed in this niche by sheer serendipity. 
 
“I got lucky—I was staffed on a solar project as an associate and made a connection with the client. I still do a lot of work for them.”
 
After working as a partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago, Astolfi joined the Chicago offices of Mayer Brown in March 2010, as a partner in
 
Global Projects and co-head of its Renewable Energy practice. 
 
“It’s a wonderful firm – the lawyers are top-notch, and the work is always interesting,” he says.
 
According to Astolfi, energy will be one of the two or three primary challenges the country faces for the foreseeable future. 
 
“It ties in to so many other issues—national security, climate change, Great Lakes water quality, even how we turn the lights on,” he explains. “It’s clear that the manner in which we’ve historically addressed the question of generating electricity will not successfully resolve all these issues in the future. Renewable energy can and should play an important role in resolving these issues.”
 
His experience with renewable energy and renewable energy projects covers utility scale and distributed generation, debt and equity financing, and U.S. domestic, cross-border, and foreign transactions. In addition to energy, he has worked on a variety of challenging transactions including the capital structure of GM’s financing subsidiary GMAC during GM’s bankruptcy, and separately more than $7 billion in debt securities offerings.
 
Prior to Kirkland & Ellis, Astolfi served as acting general counsel for Acciona Energy North America Corporation, directing the activities of outside counsel and participating in company management activities. One particularly interesting project involved representing the developer in the $270 million leveraged sale-leaseback of Acciona Energy’s Nevada Solar One, the largest solar thermal electric generating facility built in the United States in 18 years.
 
“It’s a utility scale solar thermal project—meaning it turns water into steam to generate electricity with a traditional generator,” he explains.
 
“The site, outside Boulder City, is impressive – stark desert and row after row of huge parabolic mirrors, all very finely polished. It was the first large solar thermal project in nearly 20 years in 2007 and it was a wonderful challenge to finish off all the related financing agreements.” 
 
Astolfi and Michelle, his wife of 16 years, are the parents of Grace, 10, and 7-year-old Claire. 
 
“My wife and children will confirm I have two interests in life other than their well-being—sailing and northern Michigan,” he says. “We have a cottage in Harbor Springs and a 1930s wooden sailboat.”  
 
The boat is a classic racing design, built in Detroit at the now-defunct Pouliot Boat Works. Astolfi says the crew comprises himself, his wife, and his two daughters.  
 
“The girls have been on the boat since they were babies. They’re getting to be very good sailors.”  
 
Astolfi, who began sailing at 12, describes his ultimate life goal this way:  
 
“Some day I will be the one sitting and eating snacks while they do all the sail trimming.”  

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