Environmental Law Clinic Wins Decision to Halt Utility Plan

Students Helped Prepare Case, a Win for Appalachian Voices
Environmental Law Clinic

Last spring’s members of the Environmental Law Clinic with Director Cale Jaffe.

September 19, 2017

The Environmental and Regulatory Law Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law recently won a case argued before the Virginia Corporation Commission on behalf of an environmental advocacy group who alleged that a power company’s proposed service option would have been a bad deal for consumers.

The clinic’s client, Appalachian Voices, challenged Appalachian Power’s proposed “100-percent renewable” energy program. Under the plan, the utility would have charged customers above-market rates if they elected to participate in the program. But the utility would not commit to adding new renewable energy resources to the grid; it initially planned to repackage existing renewables that are already included in the power company’s standard rates.

“Our client was concerned that the program would have confused environmentally conscious consumers, who would not realize that they would pay more but possibly end up with less renewable energy on the grid,” said Cale Jaffe, the clinic’s director and an assistant professor of law.

The program also would have prevented renewable energy entrepreneurs from offering lower-priced, clean-energy options to their customers, due to a Virginia law that limits opportunities for what are called “competitive service providers,” Jaffe said.

Jaffe argued the case Nov. 15.  Other intervening parties included renewable energy companies, local governments and the Office of the Virginia Attorney General. Members of last fall’s clinic — Jim Dennison ’18, Opeyemi Akinbamidele ’17 and Josh Allred ’17 — attended the hearing and helped Jaffe prepare the case. Emma Clancy ’19 worked pro bono for the clinic during the Christmas break to complete the post-hearing brief.

Appalachian Voices, according to its website, is “a leading force in Appalachia's shift from fossil fuels to clean energy and a just future.” Headquartered in North Carolina, it has an office in Charlottesville.

Appalachian Power operates in Virginia but has its headquarters in Ohio.

Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Virginia last year, Jaffe was an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center and directed the Virginia office. He is a 2001 graduate of the Law School.

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