Gravel & Shea PC

November 2016

Jeff Polubinski Presents on Brownfield Renewable Energy Development at REV Conference

Jeffrey Polubinski

The Annual (Renewable Energy Vermont) REV Conference is usually an optimistic affair, but this year’s crowd was more somber as renewable energy developers and advocates try to navigate a changing regulatory environment in the state. Gravel & Shea Attorney Jeff Polubinski presented at the recent conference held October 13-14 in Burlington and attended by over 450 people from around the country.

Jeff, who has a background in environmental consulting prior to practicing law, helped attendees understand the challenges and potential opportunities of developing renewable projects on contaminated properties or “brownfields.” Under new net metering regulations, projects that produce between 150 and 500 kilowatts of energy must be sited on what have been termed “preferred sites.” These sites—generally landfills, gravel pits, or brownfields—often come with a lot of environmental baggage that can be off-putting to potential developers, who could find themselves responsible for costly or difficult cleanup.

Since Vermont doesn’t have many landfills and gravel pits are often too far off the grid, developing on brownfields may be the only option for many larger solar projects. The ideal, Jeff says, is to find a site that would fit within the state’s definition of “brownfield” but that doesn’t pose a risk to human health and the environment and thus doesn’t require cleanup. To determine whether a site is a brownfield, a potential landowner or lessee will generally do a Phase I Environmental Assessment, a research-based analysis that involves no direct sampling at the site.

Because many statutes hold a landowner or operator responsible for environmental harm regardless of that owner or operator’s actual culpability in creating the harm, taking steps to protect oneself from liability is particularly important. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has recently begun extending a liability protection plan to certain long-term lessees. If a purchaser, “innocent landowner” or long-term lessee works with DEC to do any required cleanup activities, the Department will grant liability protection in perpetuity.

Uncertainty associated with these recent regulatory changes may slow down solar development in Vermont, but Jeff’s goal is to help developers understand how to make the best use of resources like federal grants and protect themselves against current or future liability. The big question for many is whether future renewable energy development on brownfields in Vermont is financially feasible. “There is certainly a premium construction cost,” says Jeff. “But there are ways to mitigate that cost through grants, intelligent planning, and strategic collaboration. There are ultimately a lot of benefits. Someone who has gone through the process and worked with the brownfields program can limit the uncertainty, delays, and liability usually associated with developing on a brownfield so it’s no different from developing on any other site.”

Gravel & Shea recognized as top listed firm in Burlington in multiple practice areas


Best Lawyers Award Badge

Best Lawyers® has included Gravel & Shea and its attorneys in Best Lawyers in America 2017©. The prestigious law firm ranking organization recognized Gravel & Shea as the top listed firm in Burlington in three practice areas: Criminal Defense: General Practice, Criminal Defense: White-Collar, and Mass Tort Litigation/Class Actions – Plaintiffs. One practice area was also top listed for the entire state of Vermont: Mass Tort Litigation/Class Actions – Plaintiffs. The top listed firm in a particular practice area is the firm with the highest number of listed attorneys in that practice area. Eleven Gravel & Shea attorneys were recognized for 2017.

Best Lawyers also recognized twelve Gravel & Shea practice areas as Tier 1 in Burlington. The Tier 1 practice areas for 2017 are:

Appellate Practice
Commercial Litigation
Corporate Law
Criminal Defense: General Practice
Criminal Defense: White-Collar
First Amendment Law
Litigation – Real Estate
Medical Malpractice Law – Plaintiffs
Mergers & Acquisitions Law
Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Real Estate Law
Securities/Capital Markets Law

Best Lawyers has been recognizing Gravel & Shea attorneys as top in their field since 1989, shortly after the organization began. Best Lawyers determines its rankings based on peer-review surveys and interviews, so inclusion is a statement of a firm’s or an attorney’s reputation among those who interact with them in a professional context, whether clients, colleagues, or adversaries.