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Law School Launches Green Energy Institute

Lewis & Clark’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program and Associate Professor Melissa Powers ’01 have initiated the Green Energy Institute, a new venture with the goal of developing and advocating for innovative policies that promote a swift transition to a completely renewable power grid.

Nick Lawton J.D. ’13, LL.M. ’14; Professor Melissa Powers ’01; and Amelia Schlusser J.D. ’13, LL.M. ’14.Nick Lawton J.D. ’13, LL.M. ’14; Professor Melissa Powers ’01; and Amelia Schlusser J.D. ’13, LL.M. ’14.

Studies show that the world must decarbonize the electricity sector if we hope to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. With this in mind, the Green Energy Institute is working on policies at local, state, and national levels that will incentivize renewable energy production. It recognizes that the most successful renewable energy policies garner support from a variety of diverse stakeholders, and is pursuing a collaborative, coalition-building approach to develop effective policy solutions.

The ultimate aim of the institute is to help the United States meet all its power needs with renewable energy. This goal is ambitious but realistic. A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that commercially available renewable energy technologies could generate 80 percent of U.S. energy by 2050, and researchers at Stanford University concluded that the nation could obtain 100 percent of its electricity from renewables within the same timeframe. In fact, the growth of the renewable energy market is already underway: Thanks to existing policies such as state renewable portfolio standards and federal tax incentives, renewables have experienced tremendous growth in the past decade. However, nonhydroelectric renewable energy still accounts for less than 8 percent of the total U.S. electricity-generating capacity, and the growth rate for renewables is expected to slow dramatically as federal tax credits expire and state mandates are met. Thus, while it may be technologically feasible for renewable energy to satisfy U.S. electricity demands in the near future, we must first develop legal and policy frameworks to drive renewable energy development. The institute focuses on creating these frameworks.

The institute is taking a multipronged approach to renewable energy policy. Its Renewable Utilities Project emphasizes increasing consumer access to green energy by incentivizing utility investment and procurement of renewable generating capacity. The Distributed Power Project aims to increase energy production at or near the site of consumption and to increase the efficiency and reliability of the electrical grid. In addition, the institute is developing a project to install an innovative solar photovoltaic system on the law school campus, which will provide a valuable educational opportunity for the Lewis & Clark community while generating green energy for the law school.

The institute is strongly focused on education and is committed to advancing the study of energy law and policy at Lewis & Clark. As the institute’s Energy Fellows, we gain invaluable practical experience working within a complex legal and regulatory system, while also furthering our legal education through the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Joint LL.M. Program. We are conducting in-depth research into existing renewable energy policies, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of policy alternatives, and gaining practical experience through collaboration with industry and regulatory representatives. The institute’s primary educational objective is to ensure that Lewis & Clark graduates possess the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to excel in the energy law field, and it ultimately aims to provide educational and practical opportunities for both current students and recent graduates. 

Thanks to invaluable help and support from the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program and the law school community, the Green Energy Institute is off to a strong start. In coming years, the institute will help Lewis & Clark Law School improve its already sterling reputation as a top environmental law school by providing opportunities for students to study and practice in the burgeoning field of energy law. For more information on the Green Energy Institute’s substantive work, please visit go.lclark.edu/law/gei.

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