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Key Takeaways | Update on the Solar Circumvention Proceeding and Discussion of Possible Comments in Response to Commerce’s Recent Memo

On May 17, 2022, Carl Fleming, Lynn Kamarck and Tyler Kimberly from McDermott’s Energy and Project Finance and International Trade teams hosted Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) General Counsel and Vice President of Market Strategy John Smirnow for a roundtable discussion that provided substantive arguments, best practices and other advocacy strategies for US solar developers who are preparing to submit collective and individual responses to the US Department of Commerce (Commerce) this week following Auxin Solar Inc.’s petition and Commerce’s subsequent memorandum.

Below are key takeaways from the discussion:

1. To reach an affirmative circumvention determination, Commerce must confirm that the processing occurring in the target countries (i.e., Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam) is “minor or insignificant.” While Commerce’s precedent establishes that the processing required to make a wafer into a module (including cell production) is not “minor or insignificant,” it has suggested the opposite during this circumvention inquiry.

2. Commerce could terminate the circumvention proceeding on the basis that including cells or modules completed in the target countries within the scope of the existing Chinese orders would not be “appropriate.” However, there is no clear indication as to what “appropriate” means.

3. What developers need the most right now is certainty. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the amounts of cash deposits and the final assessment of import duties, some developers are unable to make key business decisions. While Commerce tried to provide some of this certainty in its May 2 proposal, it did not accomplish that goal.

4. Developers can share their views regarding the investigation by submitting comments to Commerce by 5:00 pm EDT on May 19, 2022. Comments can include discussion of any difficulties complying with Commerce’s proposed certifications and whether such certificates would be useful to the company, the treatment of cells or modules manufactured in non-targeted countries and inconsistencies between prior Commerce decisions and the investigation at hand.

5. SEIA is calling for a Public Interest Requirement in anti-circumvention investigations to prevent similar petitions from being filed and moving forward in the future.

McDermott is currently preparing comments for a number of US solar developers and also providing additional feedback on comments prepared by other US solar developers to ensure that they are putting their best foot forward during this critical period.

For more insight on this topic, please watch our recent webinar recording where our executive leadership panel discussed the commercial, legal and policy responses to Commerce’s anti-circumvention investigation.




Key Takeaways: Risks, Opportunities and Disclosures in the Era of Climate Change

On April 27, members from McDermott’s ESG, Impact & Sustainability Group, including Counsel David Cifrino and Partners Thomas Dawson, Carl Fleming and Jacob Hollinger, hosted a webinar on risks, opportunities and disclosures in an era of climate change.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

  • There is intense industry and investor interest in new rules the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has proposed on climate-related risk disclosure and how they harmonize with international sustainability standards. The proposed disclosure is very specific and detailed and would apply to companies in all sectors. The disclosure can be divided into three separate categories: a separate non-financial “Climate-Related Disclosure” section in annual reports and registration statements on climate-related governance, risk management, strategy, and goals; detailed reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, and financial statement climate-related metrics.
  • The SEC proposal for greenhouse gas reporting has many differences from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) existing Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule, although the two sets of requirements are not necessarily inconsistent. Some aspects of the SEC proposal that are not in the EPA rules include: required reporting from the SEC registrant rather than being facility or supplier specific; no reporting threshold; contains no set mandatory calculation methodology; and has a third-party attestation requirement.
  • US insurers face separate specific considerations with respect to the rules. Of the approximately 5,000 insurers in the US, only about 110 are SEC registrants. States are typically the primary regulators for insurers and some states have existing annual climate disclosure requirements. Currently 35 states do not have such requirements, but it remains to be seen whether the SEC proposal will push more states to require submission of annual climate disclosures or to modify other disclosure filing requirements to include specific climate risk disclosure items.
  • The main “megatrend” in the market is toward decarbonization which impacts valuations, operations, employees and markets. Renewable energy is expected to continue its record growth through 2050. Several factors driving this growth includes technology improvements, decreasing costs, improved battery storage and a supportive policy environment.
  • Independent power producers are potential partners in helping Fortune 100 companies, tech giants and governments “go green.” For entities that cannot produce green energy but want to ensure their energy comes from green sources, corporate power purchase agreements with independent power producers provide a way of doing so.
  • Corporations bought a record 31.1 gigawatts of clean energy through power purchase agreements, or PPAs, in 2021. This is up nearly 24% from the previous year’s record of 25.1GW.

Read more on “SEC Proposes Landmark Standardized Disclosure Rules on Climate-Related Risks” and “Climate Change Regulatory Update for US Insurers”.




Key Takeaways | Keeping the Lights On: Cyber Threat, Vulnerability and Oversight Considerations for the Energy Sector

During the latest webinar in our Energy Transition series, Partners Carl Fleming and Scott Ferber hosted PWC Principals Brad Bauch, US Power and Utilities Cybersecurity & Privacy Leader, and Mark Ray, Cybersecurity & Privacy, to discuss the cyber threat landscape that the energy sector currently faces, the US government’s oversight of cybersecurity and key considerations for building a robust compliance program.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

1. The Cyber Threat Landscape. Threat actors are continually evolving in the tactics, techniques and procedures they are deploying against their targets, making it a daunting threat landscape. Where nation state threat actors are involved, the risk of compromise is heightened. Ransomware continues to be, by far, the most prevalent issue organizations are contending with across all sectors and geographies—followed by supply chain attacks and zero-day exploits. Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the punishing sanctions being imposed, along with Russia’s demonstrated willingness to use malign cyber means against an array of targets, the energy sector should be on high alert for cyberattacks.

2. US Government Engagement. The US government is using a carrot-and-stick approach with the private sector to encourage and, in some instances, require robust cybersecurity, as well as information sharing. Bottom line, the government is expecting more of the private sector (particularly the energy sector) when it comes to dealing with cybersecurity.

3. Building a Robust Compliance Program. There are unique considerations when building a robust compliance program that encompasses both Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT) systems. As a starting point, companies should consider:

  • Benchmarking against cybersecurity compliance programs at peer companies and similar industries
  • Creating processes that are enterprise-wide, with a control standards-based approach
  • Avoiding program siloing
  • Ensuring active monitoring and controlled access of IT and OT systems
  • Developing strong protections for legacy OT software that is operationally essential.

To access past webinars in the Energy Transition series and to begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the webinar series, please click here.




Key Takeaways | Commercial, Legal and Policy Responses to Commerce’s Anticircumvention Investigation

The US Department of Commerce (Commerce) recently initiated a circumvention investigation against solar cell and module imports from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. This decision has the potential to profoundly impact the companies that import or rely on imported crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells (CSPs) in the United States. To help companies navigate this investigation, McDermott’s Carl Fleming, Lynn Kamarck and Tyler Kimberly were joined by Brett White, vice president of regulatory affairs for Pine Gate Renewables, for a fireside chat that covered, among other things, the specific issues Commerce will investigate, how to assess the risk of this decision across developer portfolios and the opportunities presented for improving current renewables legislation.

Below are key takeaways from the discussion:

1. Commerce’s decision to initiate a circumvention investigation into whether CSPs imported from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam are circumventing antidumping and countervailing duty orders on CSPs from China has generated market uncertainty for companies that import or rely on imported CSPs.

2. Whether any assessment of duties or penalties that result from the investigation will have retroactive effect is currently unclear. Applicable regulations do not require Commerce to apply duties retroactively, providing an opportunity for “interested parties” to offer feedback to Commerce as to why retroactive application would be unfair. (In this context, domestically, importers of record, businesses and trade associations and industrial users are generally recognized as interested parties.)

3. Major legal and factual issues may sway Commerce’s ultimate determination, while certain factual discrepancies in Auxin Solar Inc.’s petition to Commerce may lead to a preliminary decision by Commerce. (The deadline for the preliminary decision is August 29, 2022, and it’s unlikely that Commerce will act before this deadline.) Additionally, certain “country of origin” legal analyses are implicated in any ultimate determination Commerce makes.

4. Auxin’s petition and Commerce’s investigation have given more attention to the issue of importing CSPs and to the Build Back Better Plan (BBB), so there is optimism that this may push US Congress to act more quickly on the adoption of certain tax credits, domestic content credits and other incentives under the BBB.

To access past webinars in the Energy Transition series and to begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the webinar series, please click here.




Key Takeaways | African Markets and Opportunities for Cross-Border Investments in Renewable Energy

On March 30, 2022, Carl Fleming and Emeka Chinwuba, partners in McDermott’s Energy and Project Finance Practice Group, hosted Dr. Abdelilah Chami, head of sustainability Northern & Central Africa at Enel Green Power, and Jay Katatumba, investment director at Africa50 Infrastructure Fund, for a lively discussion on the renewable energy space in Africa and cross-border investments.

The transition to renewable energy in Africa has progressed impressively over the last decade, with many countries working to increase renewable energy capacity in recent years. Forecasts by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicate that with the right policies, regulation, governance and access to financial markets, sub-Saharan Africa could meet up to 67% of its energy needs by 2030. This is reflected by the fact that average annual investments in renewable energy grew ten-fold from less than half a billion dollars during the 2000 – 2009 period to $5 billion during 2010 – 2020.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

1. Development Financial Institution (DFI) participation in Africa’s power market is primarily driven by its mandate to make the cost of electricity more affordable, increasing access to electricity and improving the reliability of its power supply.

2. Energy access and consumption in Africa has global ramifications as we look to trade, commerce and development, future demographic trends and geopolitics with respect to energy costs and access.

3. From a power sector policy standpoint, each African country should be taking a holistic view when looking at the specific in-country and regional needs for energy, the entire value chain, related and existing infrastructure, local capabilities and local regulatory and governance frameworks.

4. In accessing various African jurisdictions for investment opportunities, private sponsors are focused on predictability, highest risk weighted returns, existing infrastructure and the whole value chain proposition for a specific asset.

5. Private sponsors are also looking for opportunities where projects are bankable and structured with very limited reliance on subsidies or other credit support from the host governments.

To access past webinars in this series and to begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the webinar series, please click here.




6 Key Takeaways from the M&A Activity in the Storage Market Panel at the Energy Storage USA Conference

Carl Fleming, a partner in McDermott’s Energy and Project Finance Practice Group and head of its energy storage team, hosted a panel of industry leaders from KKR & Co. Inc., CohnReznick Capital and Pine Gate Renewables that explored the opportunities and challenges currently facing the energy storage market, as well as the future of the market. Below are key takeaways from the discussion:

1. Valuation: The models underlying energy storage projects are complex, consist of a large number of variables and are mainly reliant on third-party data and analytics in an emerging technology. In uncertain times like now, it is critical that storage teams be extremely thorough in their diligence and flexible in their approach to valuations and developing the revenue stack for these projects.

2. Supply Chain Woes: Supply chain issues have altered the outlook of many in the storage sector in 2022. While demand remains robust, the storage sector is facing global supply chain issues (as is the entire industry) and competition within manufacturers as to whether cells will be allocated for storage or electric vehicles (EV). The accelerated growth of the EV market could negatively impact the growth of the storage market—unless suppliers find ways to ramp up production.

3. Buy or Wait: Right now, the cost of modules, cells, commodities and transportation are through the roof. At the same time, the demand for storage is equally high. It remains to be seen whether purchasing storage assets at a time of such volatility will be a winning or losing proposition. Some have speculated that now is the time to buy, while others have suggested staying on the bench for this round. However, based on the higher cost of solar assets from years ago and recent prices for the sale of those assets, it seems sitting out in this market would be a losing proposition.

4. Assets vs. Human Capital: In several transactions, we’re seeing parties more interested in acquiring the human capital and the team behind a platform of assets rather than acquiring the asset solely on its economic merits. The track record and make-up of the development team remains an essential point when buyers are considering the projects they are willing to purchase.

5. Standalone, Hybrid or Conversion: Although certain buyers are targeting a particular area of the energy storage market and standalone storage remains a hot topic, the industry as a whole has ready and willing buyers for all forms of energy storage projects (e.g., standalone storage, storage plus renewable hybrids, storage plus conventional hybrids).

6. Market FOMO: There is a pervasive sense of “FOMO” in the market right now. However, developers and investors need to remain disciplined and stay true to two essential prerequisites for a project to be purchased: line-of-sight on interconnection and line-of-sight on offtake revenues. These can be easy to lose sight of in today’s frothy market and in new markets that have shifting regulatory regimes for storage.

Carl Fleming and his team of energy [...]

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Key Takeaways | Post-Uri Hedge Products for Storage and Renewables

During the latest webinar in our Energy Transition series, Partners Robert Lamkin and Jacob Hollinger hosted Louis Martinsen, vice president, origination at Boston Energy Trading and Marketing, for a 30-minute discussion concerning hedge product opportunities for renewables and storage projects one year after Winter Storm Uri impacted Texas’s power grid.

Below are key takeaways from the webinar:

1. A year after Winter Storm Uri, hedging products for renewables are moving toward “as generated” hedges, meaning the hedge settles based on how much power the renewable project actually generates rather than based on other possible metrics (such as proxy generation).

2. A potential alternative for renewable and storage developers are hedging projects that provide a revenue “floor,” which can be thought of as a minimum level of revenue scaled to ensure that the project will receive a minimum amount of revenue sufficient to meet its operating and maintenance costs, debt service and capital expenditures regardless of market prices for the products it sells or intends to sell.

3. The providers of these hedge products are also changing to include entities serving (directly or indirectly) retail load rather than purely wholesale trading entities.

To access past webinars in this series and to begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the webinar series, please click here.




The ESG Opportunity: Hydrogen, CCS and Decarbonization

Carl Fleming, a partner in McDermott’s Energy and Project Finance Group and leader in its Energy Transition Team, hosted a panel of industry leaders from Apex Clean Energy, Leyline Renewables and Pattern that explored the opportunities and challenges for ESG and hydrogen. Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Various companies are looking to the environmental, social and governance (ESG) opportunity, particularly long haul trucking, overseas shipping and airlines, where the fuel needs far exceed those currently available for electrification and where recharging stations are limited or impossible. As a result, we are likely to see a mix of electric and hydrogen going forward where one technology may be slightly more advantageous than another. Or we may see the two complement one another in a larger strategy.
  2. Midstream oil & gas operators are looking to increasingly transition to hydrogen, whether it is green, blue or turquoise hydrogen. Which shade of hydrogen prevails will be determined by the capital costs involved as well as ESG demands.
  3. Transmission congestion is affecting the ability of many renewable energy developer to deliver power from some of the most resource-rich areas. However, hydrogen offers an excellent solution in some cases as it eases the need for transmission in those highly congested areas.
  4. The high costs of hydrogen as well as the need to build out an infrastructure to properly transport are current challenges that are in the process of being overcome by a slew of developers who see the opportunity for hydrogen.
  5. The Biden Administration’s support of hydrogen hubs and billions in hydrogen infrastructure should continue to spur further hydrogen development at a rapid pace.

Carl Fleming and his team in Houston are currently leading a large number of hydrogen transactions for leading developers.  In particular, they are enabling a number of first-in-kind hydrogen transactions utilizing newer technologies and investment strategies.




Development Market Outlook in ERCOT

Carl Fleming, a member of McDermott’s Energy and Project Finance Group and head of its Energy Storage Team, hosted a panel of industry leaders from Vistra, UKA North America and Origis that explored the opportunities and challenges for utility-scale solar and standalone energy storage development in the Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Here are the key takeaways:

  1. A huge wave of solar and standalone storage projects is hitting ERCOT. Per recent reports, as of September 2021, developers had more than 100GW of solar, 42GW of utility-scale battery storage, 22GW of wind and 13GW of natural gas in the queue.
  2. It’s unclear what the future holds for the market due to transmission congestion, the impact of so much solar going online and its effects on the power price curve, as well as supply chain issues.
  3. Transmission congestion is affecting the ability to deliver power from some of the most resource-rich areas. However, ERCOT remains more predictable than certain other markets that have recently announced temporary pauses in processing the transmission pipeline queue.
  4. The large increase of solar on the system in such a short period of time is already having impacts on the power price curve. However, certain corporates in their efforts to meet environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals are willing to build for more than purely economic reasons and can help offset that volatility to a degree.
  5. Supply chain issues continue and are expected to worsen, resulting in increased risks around projects costs and completion. While this has resulted in a number of developers having to revisit their power purchase agreements, those with robust procurement programs were able to mitigate this risk in advance and have been able to continue business as usual.
  6. The use of quantitative analytics or “quants” in project development is growing and has enabled certain developers to optimize energy storage project location in ERCOT as well as optimize their project outputs. The key, however, is properly integrating the quantitative data into the project development decision making process.

Carl Fleming and his team in Houston are currently leading a large number of solar, wind and storage transactions across ERCOT for leading developers and private equity funds. In particular, they are enabling a number of first-in-kind battery storage transactions utilizing newer technologies and investment strategies.




Key Takeaways | Energy Storage Opportunities and Challenges

What are the opportunities and challenges facing those in the energy storage sector? During the latest webinar in our Energy Transition series, Partner Jim Salerno hosted Perfect Power’s CEO and President Alan Dash and Chief Commercial Officer Douglas Sherman for a 30-minute discussion where they opined on the importance of battery storage and the differences between regulated and unregulated markets within the energy storage industry.


Below are the key takeaways from this discussion:

1. Utility-scale battery storage is necessary for transitioning the grid from fossil fuels to renewables. The surge of renewables across grids has resulted in unpredictability, volatility and intermittency in the energy market, creating a need for a new form of peaking. Batteries are becoming the ideal peaking units as their fast ramping capabilities allow them to adapt to shortfalls in the grid and create stability.

2. Battery storage, unlike renewables, provides capacity as well as ancillary services. This concept is known as “value stacking.” In addition to storage capabilities, ancillary services allow batteries to manage volatility and uncertainty in the grid by providing tools that keep the system in balance and establish the ability to arbitrage the Real Time Market while creating predictability in the Day-Ahead Market.

3. The current regulatory and merchant markets are evolving to facilitate renewables and storage project development. In unregulated markets, such as Texas, the integration of renewables into the grid has grown organically because of the efficiency, speed and economic benefits that are derived from renewables and battery storage. Meanwhile, highly regulated markets, such as California, are focusing on resource adequacy, market certainty and incentives to promote capital investment in the clean energy space—including battery storage.

To access past webinars in this series and to begin receiving Energy updates, including invitations to the webinar series, please click here.




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