Energy Clinic Overview
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.
The Energy Clinic operates year round and provides opportunities for our JD, LLM and Masters 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 also come to VLS to work in our Energy Clinic. 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 students are hired directly from the Energy Clinic to meaningful positions in renewable energy development.
Our projects focus on policy advocacy, transactional law, and public education and resources; we do not participate in litigation. 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. 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.
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 two projects focused on advancing the use of anaerobic bio-digesters to create both energy and compost from agriculture and food waste.
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, local energy system resiliency and our new Farm and Energy Initiative.
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