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In 2014, the Institute for Energy and the Environment launched the first full academic year energy clinic in the U.S. While at many schools energy means oil and gas, at Vermont Law School (VLS) we teach energy in the context of justice and the environment and what we want the world to be in 50 years. Working to advance climate justice has been a focus of our Energy Clinic's work.
The Energy Clinic operates year round (fall, spring and summer sessions) and provides opportunities for our JD, LLM and Masters of Energy Regulation and Law (MERL) students to progressively develop the knowledge, skills, and values integral to the field of energy law and policy, while helping our clients meet local energy needs with reliable, clean, and affordable resources. Students from other schools across the country have come to VLS to work in our Energy Clinic and we welcome your interest. Energy clinicians undertake projects to resolve energy law and policy challenges in a sustainable and socially equitable manner, for both the local community and the world. As a result, our masters and JD students are hired directly from the Energy Clinic to meaningful positions in renewable energy development, clean energy and climate justice advocacy, law firms, and throughout all levels of the public sector.
Pictured above is the Institute for Energy and the Environment’s Summer Energy Clinic Team in front of the VLS solar farm (left to right: Milton Mendez, Caroline Daniels, Andrew Hulett, Assistant Professor Jeannie Oliver, Garrett Flanagan, Rebecca Fruehwald, Samantha Doyle, Sadie Edmundson, Travis Jones, Adi Halevi, Professor Arturo Brandt, Erin Milliken, Professor Kevin Jones, Anna Hazlett, Cassandra Chaves, Serge Jean-Baptiste, and Matthew Rubin)
Our projects focus on clean energy advocacy, transactional law, regulatory policy, project finance and development and public education and resources. Community solar is a key project area. Energy clinicians have actively developed and promoted improved models for community solar that maximize the environmental and economic benefits available for community members, nonprofits and small businesses and farms. As part of this work, student clinicians have written and periodically updated a community solar how-to guide, developed publicly available model legal agreements to give effect to community solar projects, and presented to community organizations to help inform local populations about solar projects. The Energy Clinic also helps clients to negotiate, draft, and review legal agreements for specific solar projects. According to Professor Kevin Jones, "the Energy Clinic allows us to expand upon classroom theory and gives students the opportunity to develop the actual legal structures for community solar, as well as implement real projects."
The Energy Clinic’s work in community solar continues to evolve in response to changing law and policy. Currently, student clinicians are working with clients throughout New England to help shape state policy to advance community solar, and expand community solar outreach across New England and beyond. The Energy Clinic is also investigating barriers to low-income solar ownership and developing ownership models, how-to guides, and template legal agreements specific to the needs of low-income communities so that clean, distributed solar can help reduce, rather than increase, income inequality.
The Mascoma Meadows project is a national model for bringing the benefits of clean energy to a low income community. You can find more information on our Mascoma Meadows community solar project here. The Energy Clinic currently has two additional community solar projects with ROCs in NH under development.
Beyond community solar, Energy Clinic projects encompass other areas of renewable energy such as micro-hydro, energy efficiency, and anaerobic bio-digesters. For example, the Energy Clinic successfully guided a Vermont farm through the federal and state regulatory process to integrate a micro-hydro project into the farm’s existing water supply system. Drawing on lessons learned from that experience, the Energy Clinic is developing a publicly available how-to guide to inform and assist future potential projects through the permitting process. The Clinic has also worked with the Vermont Farmers Food Center in Rutland to explore energy efficiency options and other sustainable means to manage their energy use. In addition, we have worked on multiple projects focused on advancing the use of anaerobic bio-digesters to create both energy and compost from agriculture and food waste. The Energy Clinic's Farm and Energy initiative is also participating with national NGO's on how to sustainably site solar on agricultural land.
2018 visiting summer clinicians left to right: Travis Jones – University of Baltimore JD Candidate, VLS MELP ’20; Erin Milliken – Texas A&M JD Candidate ‘19; Caroline Daniels – Northeastern JD Candidate ’19 (photo credit: Tony Mendez, VLS JD Candidate ’19)
Future projects will promote both climate change mitigation and adaptation. In addition to community solar, clinicians can expect to work on client projects to support building energy efficiency, electric vehicle infrastructure, and local energy system resiliency. If you have a project idea, want to learn how you can join our student team, or want to help support our work in advancing a clean energy future you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
"The Energy Clinic was an excellent experience overall – I was exposed to lease agreements, operating agreements, disclosure statements, etc. and throughout the process I gained a solid understanding of community renewable development projects in general. I definitely recommend the Clinic to anyone interested in energy development, transactional legal work, or to anyone who just simply wants to work with an amazing group of people."
Travis C. Jones, 2018 Summer Clinician
J.D. Candidate, 2020