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Energy

Energy law is a diverse and thriving practice at Varnum

From finance and siting issues to regulation and tax incentives, our client-focused, service team approach has made us a beacon in the profession.

Varnum’s long-standing energy practice encompasses significant experience in conventional, alternative and renewable energy sources. We helped organize the Energy Michigan trade association, and the firm is a founding member of the Michigan Renewable Energy Consortium.

Varnum’s project work includes utility scale co-generation and exempt wholesale generators in excess of 1000 MW; alternative energy projects from 3 MW to 65 MW; and natural gas pipelines, production and utility-scale storage facilities.

We have both the 40,000-foot perspective and the detailed knowledge of this formerly highly regulated industry to help you meet your energy goals in the new energy marketplace.

To serve the varied interests of the electric energy practice, Varnum has developed a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. Our attorneys work as a team to meet the energy needs of clients, whether involved in simple contract activities or complex regulatory and financing situations.

We have significant experience litigating and practicing before the Michigan Public Service Commission, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other key U.S. and state agencies that affect the energy fields. We have litigated antitrust issues, regulatory issues and contractual issues in state and federal courts. Our experience includes:

  • Exempt wholesale generators, independent power producers and cogeneration – financing, construction startups, power sale agreements, utility commission approvals, fuel purchase contracts, environmental permits and tax assistance.
  • Municipal and cooperative utilities – litigation, rate matters, franchises, antitrust actions and environmental protection.
  • Nuclear and fossil fuel plant construction and operation – construction disputes, municipal bonding, environmental permitting, power purchase agreement negotiation and fuel supply.
  • Deregulation and retail wheeling – negotiation and pricing of wheeling agreements, representation of energy marketers before the Michigan Public Service Commission and Michigan State Legislature to develop Michigan’s Open Access Program, litigation of related issues before state administrative and judicial bodies.

The Varnum regulatory practice helps energy developers obtain approvals for new generation projects. We also promote competition in the energy sector, representing businesses that provide or use electricity in competition with the investor-owned utilities.

Varnum is one of the few large firms in Michigan that can offer representation of independent power users and producers, as we do not represent Michigan's large investor-owned utilities on energy matters. Our energy practice attorneys have familiarity and understanding of the workings of the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and our team includes attorneys who have served on the MPSC, including as chair.

Experience

We have significant experience litigating and practicing before the MPSC, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other key U.S. and state agencies that affect the energy industry. We have litigated antitrust issues, regulatory issues and contractual issues in state and federal courts. Our experience includes:

  • Exempt wholesale generators, independent power producers and cogeneration – financing, construction startups, power sale agreements, utility commission approvals, fuel purchase contracts, environmental permits and tax assistance.
  • Municipal and cooperative utilities – litigation, rate matters, franchises, antitrust actions and environmental protection.
  • Nuclear and fossil fuel plant construction and operation – construction disputes, municipal bonding, environmental permitting, power purchase agreement negotiation and fuel supply.
  • Deregulation and retail wheeling – negotiation and pricing of retail wheeling agreements, representation of energy marketers before the MPSC and Michigan state legislature to further develop Michigan’s Open Access Program, litigation of related issues before state administrative and judicial bodies.

We regularly appear before the MPSC on behalf of our clients, commenting on or submitting testimony in 15 to 20 cases annually. These range from rate cases to annual power supply recovery cases, as well as individual complaint petition cases.

We often intervene in order to provide a counterpoint to positions taken by the investor-owned utilities in Michigan on various issues including:

  • PURPA avoided cost
  • Standby rates for self-generation
  • Power plant approvals
  • Alternative energy supplier requirements and certifications
  • Industrial, commercial and residential retail rates

In addition, we have advised independent power producers, out-of-state utilities and alternative energy suppliers on legislative matters, including assisting in the preparation and testimony before the Michigan legislature.

We also advise and prepare clients who need to participate in the political process at all levels in Michigan. Our clients include:

  • Alternative energy suppliers
  • Independent power producers
  • Retail customers
  • Trade associations 

With a team of attorneys experienced in water law issues, Varnum has a long history of involvement in hydropower and dam projects for clients, including public and private parties, utilities and others involved in dam operations in Michigan and other states.

Dam-Related Representation

Our attorneys have extensive experience with the regulatory and real property issues presented by the installation, operation and removal of dams. We have represented clients in matters involving constructing dams, removing dams, reactivating dams and licensing hydropower facilities at dams. These matters have included determining flowage rights and riparian rights for upstream and downstream property owners. Our work has included the following water bodies:

  • Au Sable River
  • Black River
  • Boardman River
  • Cooke Dam Impoundment
  • Flat River
  • Grand River
  • Jordan Lake
  • Fish Creek
  • Kalamazoo River
  • Mill Pond at Mill Creek
  • Pigeon River
  • Rogue River
  • St. Joseph River
  • Thornapple River
Meeting Client Needs

We have represented municipalities and utilities with regard to the permitting, use of and decommissioning of dams. We have assisted our clients with delineating riparian rights, dividing the ownership of bottomland, obtaining and opposing flowage easements, developing and opposing the development of waterfront, permitting and opposing the permitting of marinas, establishing and opposing the establishment of lake levels and establishing legal mechanisms to protect waterways and adjoining lands for conservation purposes. We have also worked with clients to meet fish ladder and other natural resource requirements associated with licensing and operation. In addition, we have experience handling the issues arising out of potentially contaminated sediments in impoundments.

Power Generation

We have represented clients on hydropower and other power generation-related matters before Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Michigan Public Service Commission, and other federal, state and local regulatory agencies. We have assisted clients in negotiating power purchase agreements with utilities for the sale of electricity from hydropower and other generating projects. We have also assisted clients with the development and transfer of power purchase agreements and guided clients through the process surrounding renewable energy credits and other benefits of renewable power generation.

Complex technical knowledge. Polished trial skills. Broad legal experience. That is what clients look for in an effective oil and gas legal practice, and Varnum’s industry specialists offer all three.

We have a wealth of knowledge and legal experience in oil and gas exploration, production, marketing, transportation and sale. We understand the certification process for constructing and operating natural gas pipelines, gathering lines and laterals. And we keep up to date on the activities of interstate and intrastate pipelines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state commissions.

Our clients are national oil and gas companies and independent producers. We counsel them in everything from the initial permitting of wells to the final sale. We also represent them in federal and state courts, and various Michigan administrative agencies, on issues such as:

  • Leasehold and joint operating agreements
  • Gas purchase and transportation contracts
  • Formation of spacing units
  • Approval of off-pattern locations
  • Establishment of allowables
  • Compulsory pooling
  • Certification of pipelines

Varnum brings extensive experience with independent power generation, including fossil-fueled, alternative and renewable resource power plants. Our work includes site development, site control and leasing, title and survey review, local zoning, construction contracting, transmission rights of way, environmental studies and compliance, and regulatory approvals. 

Wind Energy

We have a depth of experience working in the wind energy industry. We have represented project developers on both on-shore and offshore, green field and brownfield, community wind and utility scale, first time and experienced projects. Our services are varied as required by each individual project. 

Wind energy clients include:

  • Developers of wind power generation projects from Australia, France, Spain and the United States
  • The largest developer of renewable resource generation projects (wind, solar, etc.) in the United States
  • The largest owner/operator of wind projects in Michigan
  • Michigan municipal utilities and alternative energy suppliers who are customers of wind energy
Solar Energy

We have a depth of experience working with entities in the solar energy industry. We have represented project developers and installers of solar panel projects, developers of concentrated solar power and concentrated solar thermal technology projects and manufacturers of products in the solar space including electrical products and solar concentrators. We have also aided clients in developing LEED certified installations of solar generating equipment.

Solar energy clients include:

  • A manufacturer of parabolic solar equipment for solar thermal and concentrated solar energy production
  • A designer and manufacturer of solar panel racking equipment and solar carports
  • Installers of rooftop mounted solar panels
  • Manufacturer of electrical control boxes and related items for the solar industry
  • A company involved in the sale and design of commercial and residential solar units, including solar panel and solar thermal applications
  • A developer that leases rooftops and installs solar panels giving the lessor a buyout/buyback option
  • A metal stamping company making framing and fixtures for solar applications
  • Two trade associations for alternative suppliers and independent power producers
Biomass Energy

Our experience in the biomass energy industry includes representing developers of wood-fired energy plants, manure digesters, agricultural gasification plants, waste-to-energy incinerators, landfill gas, ethanol and biodiesel crop projects. We have also aided clients in developing carbon credit registration and trading programs.

Biomass energy clients include:

  • Various wood-fired generation projects
  • A multi-patented designer of innovative gasification processes allowing for small-scale electric energy production
  • Various agricultural interests looking to solve waste disposal issues creatively
  • Paper mills with onsite self-generation
  • Two trade associations for alternative suppliers and independent power producers
Waste-to-Energy

Varnum's experience working in the waste-to-energy industry is broad. We represent developers of waste-to-energy incinerators, landfill gas and agricultural gasification projects. The services are varied as required by each individual project.

Waste-to-energy clients include:

  • A prominent nationwide developer of MWS waste-to-energy projects
  • A multi-patented designer of innovative gasification processes allowing for small-scale electric energy production
  • Agricultural interests looking to creatively solve waste disposal issues
  • Two trade association for alternative supplier and independent power producers

“Varnum has top-notch advice and strategy. Excellent team for our energy related needs.”

President, Michigan Business Association

Varnum serves a wide range of clients in the energy industry

Varnum’s energy clients include:

  • Municipally owned electric utilities
  • Co-generators and independent power producers
  • Biomass facilities, including waste-to-energy and wood-fired plants
  • Alternative energy projects, including wind farms, biomass, waste-to-energy, landfill gas, hydroelectric and biodigesters
  • Oil and gas producers and transporters
  • Nuclear power plants
  • Trade associations
  • Investors and lenders
  • Customers and end users
  • Manufacturers of energy-producing parts and equipment

Meet the Team

Our attorneys are routinely recognized for their excellence and ability to litigate, negotiate and advise clients by Top Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Chambers USA and more.

Legal Practices Related to Energy

Varnum helps clients understand and operate successfully in the changing landscape of federal, state and local environmental requirements.

We have developed deep experience in representing clients in judicial and administrative environmental enforcement proceedings at the federal, state and local levels – including alternative dispute resolution. 

Learn more about Varnum's Environmental and Natural Resources Practice

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