A Virginia utility company is now more likely to meet state goals for renewable energy after two University of Virginia School of Law students led efforts on behalf of their Environmental and Regulatory Law Clinic client.

The clinic represented the nonprofit Appalachian Voices at the State Corporation Commission. Responding to arguments raised by the clinic, on Jan. 28 the commission ordered Appalachian Power Co. to model plans to meet state targets for renewable power, such as wind and solar, requiring a plan for 100% clean energy by 2050. The utility was also ordered to be transparent in its analyses of how it meets goals. The targets were outlined by Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order No. 43, signed in September.

Dani Gibbons ’21 and Andy Kriha ’20 participated in every phase of advocacy, including brainstorming issues to raise and arguments for those issues, researching to support those arguments, formulating and drafting discovery requests, and drafting and editing portions of the statement that Professor Cale Jaffe ’01, the clinic’s director, read at the SCC hearing.

“The students found that APCO had relied on a report from Purdue University for its climate risk analysis,” Jaffe said. “But that report, they discovered, was an Indiana-specific analysis and was not extrapolated to Virginia. So, building off the weakness of that report, we highlighted that APCO had not really considered how climate change would impact their customers’ energy needs in Virginia.”

Gibbons said among their goals was to show that APCO’s planning was incomplete and convince the three-member commission that accepting Appalachian Voices’ “asks” in terms of how compliance is reported would give regulators a more complete picture of energy portfolio options.

She said the decision will also inform Virginia energy policy by exposing some of the weak points in the recent executive order that need to be bolstered so it can be used as a tool for pushing renewables development and reliance.

Students in this semester-long clinic have the opportunity to work on real-world environmental cases in a variety of venues — before courts, administrative agencies and public utility commissions.

Kriha and Gibbons said they learned new skills while participating in the hearing process, which is both smaller-scale than a traditional court proceeding and wider-ranging.

“The biggest thing that I learned was how to develop a strategy for working within the constraints of a commission hearing in a small industry,” Kriha said.

Gibbons added, “This project for me was an exercise in managing an unwieldy forum while still zealously and effectively advocating for our client’s objectives.” 

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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