March 2020

We hope that you are managing to stay healthy and safe during these tumultuous times. Here at Berkeley Law we're focused on doing all we can to prioritize the health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff.

As so many of us shelter-in-place, we thought we'd send around some readings. In the first section, CLEE Faculty Director Dan Farber has been offering some thoughts on the coronavirus context and our country's responses through Legal Planet . We've compiled links to some of his most recent writings.  In the second section, earlier this month we hosted for the first time an Energy Law symposium featuring leading experts in the field and offering CLE credits to practitioners wanting to brush up on current hot topics in the field. CLEE Climate Program Director Ethan Elkind offers some takeaways from those two days of discussion.  

Finally, many are experiencing hardships in some form or another during this trying time. Whether you are in need of support or seeking ways to help, we wanted to spread the word about some opportunities:  
  • If you're looking for fresh air, here are some tips on how to enjoy the outdoors safely.
  • If you want to visit new places without leaving your shelter, you can take virtual tours of museums around the world for free. 
  • If you're looking for more information on the pandemic, Science at Cal has an informative website with resources and updates related to Covid-19.
  • Finally, if you are in a position to donate, here's a list of organizations that could use help during this crisis. 
From all of us here at CLEE, sending our very best and hope you're all taking care. 

Thoughts on COVID-19 and Our National Response

Recent blog posts by Dan Farber via Legal Planet, the environmental and energy law blog we co-host with UCLA

March 26, 2020
States have been on the frontline in dealing with coronavirus. Farber outlines the statutory, practical, and constitutional reasons for this. 

March 24, 2020
Everyone is at risk, but some are more than others. What are some of the disparities we can expect to see during the pandemic?

March 23, 2020
Our knowledge about the coronavirus, although growing, is limited. How do we deal with this uncertainty in decision making?

#1 Environmental Law Program

Much like this pandemic, climate change requires global mobilization. Here at Berkeley our students and graduates are training to take on that challenge. This year the dedication and leadership of our students, faculty, and staff was recognized when our Environmental Law Program tied for #1 in US News and World Reports' latest rankings. We're so proud of our students, and continue to strive to support them however we can.  

Key takeaways from the Berkeley Symposium on Energy and Governance

On March 2-3, we hosted a two-day symposium on current trends and topics in energy law, an event for current energy law and policy practitioners featuring some leading voices in the field.  Here are some of the high-level takeaways from those discussions.

Energy law and policy is central to all efforts to address climate change. CLEE's 2020 energy law symposium introduced participants to the basics of energy and climate policy, including the nuts and bolts of clean technology permitting and both short- and long-term policy needs. Ultimately, emissions from transportation fuel combustion, electricity generation and natural gas usage constitute a major portion of worldwide carbon emissions, as described by introductory speaker Ethan Elkind, director of CLEE's climate program.

Janice Lin and Don Liddell discuss renewable-powered hydrogen as a bulk energy storage solution.
Major themes among speakers included the need to increase the pace of technology deployment, adapt our energy system to a changing climate, and conform policies to emerging business and technology trends. On deployment, Megan Jennings from Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass LLP noted the need for resolving permitting challenges around utility-scale solar PV facilities, where multiple layers of review provide veto points for projects, injecting uncertainty into project development that undermines financing. Similarly, financing of new technology projects, such as the conversion of a coal-fired power plant into one that uses "green" hydrogen and natural gas, requires policy leadership at multiple levels, as Janice Lin (Strategen Consulting) and Don Liddell (California Energy Storage Association) noted. And Sky Stanfield from Shute Mihaly & Weinberger detailed the challenge for distributed clean energy resources to receive interconnection approvals from utilities.

As climate change exacerbates impacts like wildfires in California, Michael Wara from Stanford discussed the need to adapt the policy and business landscape of investor-owned utilities to this new reality, including policy reforms being implemented and considered at the state level to address liability and preparedness. Community choice aggregators such as East Bay Community Energy are also developing innovative programs to boost climate resilience through incentives to deploy backup batteries among low-income residents affected by power safety shutoffs, yet face headwinds from state-required customer exit fees to join their program, as Melissa Brandt, Senior Director of Public Policy and Deputy General Counsel, described.

Cisco Devries presents on OhmConnect's business model to pay customers to reduce electricity.
Business and technology innovation also loomed large. Cisco Devries, CEO of OhmConnect, spoke about how his company is aggregating thousands of electricity users to bid them as a resource to grid operators: instead of building a new power plant or buying expensive power to meet their needs, his company instead pays them to reduce usage at key times and sells that resource to the grid. Max Baumhefner from NRDC noted the tremendous technological progress made in recent years to reduce the costs of battery electric vehicles, yet many states are levying disproportionately high annual registration fees on these clean vehicles to pay for highway infrastructure and potentially discourage their adoption in favor of fossil fuel vehicles.

As climate change worsens and the policy response inevitably increases to manage the problem, attendees at the symposium had the opportunity to hear from experts in various energy fields describe the near-term challenges and opportunities. While ambitious policy goals at all levels are needed, these practitioners and others in the field ultimately have the crucial job of implementing them. CLEE organized the symposium to highlight this work and train new practitioners to help join the cause, and we look forward to holding future trainings on these issues.