Solar developer’s legal wrangling draws praise, criticism

Katie R. Ochoa


Thomas Melone is president of a Connecticut photo voltaic enterprise. He is also a lawyer. And between the two, observers say, he is a little something of an enigma. 

As head of Allco Renewable Strength, Melone suggests his company’s company mission is to fight the devastating impacts of climate modify. But he’s also filed a number of lawsuits challenging various states’ clear electrical power programs.

He most just lately designed news by suing in federal court to have approvals overturned for Vineyard Wind — poised to be the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm — citing, amid other issues, possible destruction to the commercial fishing field. 

And although he views it as his task to obstacle regulations or procedures that restrict solar advancement, the company’s litigious track history is carrying out harm to the industry’s status, some critics say. The Vermont Office of Community Services the moment accused Melone of using “a scorched earth approach” in a proceeding just before the Public Utility Fee.

“He is providing photo voltaic a definitely undesirable name he’s turning people against solar,” mentioned Annette Smith. In her part as executive director for Vermonters for a Clean Natural environment, Smith has challenged numerous photo voltaic initiatives herself and been vital of Melone’s actions. “You’ve bought to function with men and women. He’s coming in and slugging and making enemies. It is a quite peculiar organization product.”

Melone doesn’t generally get in court docket, but that doesn’t seem to be to deter him. A seasoned attorney who beforehand worked in tax law and structured finance, Melone suggests the enterprise is just doing exercises its legal rights, and is on a mission to enable decarbonize the vitality sector as speedily as probable. Growing photo voltaic use, he states, is the ideal way to do that. 

“Putting renewable vitality on land creates extra American employment, does not put business fisheries out of business, is extra protected from an electrical grid viewpoint, and does not come with all the environmental pitfalls of offshore wind,” he claimed in an electronic mail trade. 

Prior to opposing Vineyard Wind (and the abandoned Cape Wind undertaking ahead of that), even so, Melone’s enterprise produced an unsuccessful bid of its have to develop the country’s initially offshore wind farm off of Rhode Island.

Melone has also filed a petition objecting to the 650-megawatt pure gas plant prepared for Killingly, Connecticut. And he sued the U.S. Forest Assistance about its approvals of the now-lifeless Northern Pass transmission line that was proposed to bring hydroelectric power to New England from Quebec. 

Extra a short while ago, he received intervenor standing in a proceeding right before the Connecticut Siting Council for acceptance of a 9.66-megawatt natural gas-powered fuel cell ability plant in the metropolis of Bridgeport. In filings to the council, Melone argues the gasoline mobile will even further deteriorate air good quality in the city’s South End, an place with high asthma premiums, and will provide to displace “true renewable vitality projects” like photo voltaic. As aspect of the discovery approach, he offered the electrical power plant’s developer, NuPower, with 15 webpages of comprehensive queries. 

For Joe Provey, a house owner who is intervening on behalf of community citizens who see the project as a detriment, the unexpected emergence of a legally expert ally in the proceeding arrived as a nice shock. 

While he is aware of Melone has “his possess agenda,” Provey claimed, “I variety of perceive him as a white knight.” 

A trail of projects, lawsuits

Melone, 63, is a rich man. He has multiple homes, which includes one on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, in which he also funded the growth of a doing arts and studio compound. In his unsuccessful 2010 attraction of Cape Wind, which was to be crafted in Nantucket Seem, he argued that the undertaking would negatively impact the viewscape from his Edgartown summer months residence and reduce his property value. 

In advance of pursuing photo voltaic development, Melone arranged tax-dependent funding for this kind of gear as railcars, plane, and electricity vegetation. He says he bought into the solar organization after his corporation commenced advising SunEdison on its solar financings. His 1st task was in Indiana in 2012. Allco and its subsidiaries now have 35 projects in operation in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, Georgia, California, Indiana and Minnesota.

Melone acknowledges the company’s past fascination in developing offshore wind in Rhode Island. 

Immediately after then-Gov. Donald Carcieri declared his administration’s dedication to acquiring an offshore wind farm up and working in 2006, Allco attempted to get a bounce on the video game by correct away asking the state for a permit to put in equipment that would allow it to acquire wind details. But the administration required to cast a broader internet and, in 2008, place the undertaking out to bid. 

Allco’s proposal was one of 7. The job went to Deepwater Wind, and is now the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm. 

“We ended up willing to make investments in discovering no matter whether wind electric power was appropriate in all those spots,” Melone explained. But since the company never ever obtained a permit for the info assortment gadgets, he reported, it hardly ever “got to the issue of currently being prepared to move forward with basically setting up a wind farm.” 

When it comes to his challenge to Vineyard Wind, Melone says he’s only “asking for the govt to do its work and acquire a tricky glimpse at the outcomes of the undertaking and the information.”

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court targets 5 federal agencies, including the Bureau of Ocean Power Administration. It cites 18 counts of their alleged failures to follow federal legislation, like the Countrywide Environmental Security Act. 

Among the allegations are that federal regulators unsuccessful to assess the wind turbines’ means to stand up to a Group 3-or-higher hurricane. Need to the turbines be wrecked in a intense storm, the release of oil and other contaminants would ruin fishing grounds and endangered species, which consist of the North Atlantic appropriate whale and the piping plover, Melone argues. 

Approval of the venture will also effect Melone’s satisfaction of the Audio as a boater, in accordance to the grievance, and minimize Allco’s solar growth alternatives, as “offshore wind energy producers intend to decimate U.S. onshore renewable energy producers in the northeastern United States.” 

“If Allco is successful,” Melone mentioned, “the govt will need to have to conduct the correct robust critique of the venture.”

Hana V. Vizcarra, a employees lawyer at the Harvard Legislation Faculty Environmental and Electricity Regulation Program, mentioned Melone looks to be “throwing up anything at all and every little thing he can” in his lengthy complaint. But she thinks he will very likely run into issues persuading the court docket he has standing to sue as head of Allco. 

“As courts have turn into a lot more conservative, they tend to take a narrower look at as to who has standing to make environmental promises,” Vizcarra stated. “The drive to get rid of competitiveness from other renewable sources doesn’t give you standing.” 

Even so, she observed that many a lot more lawsuits no question lie ahead for these important wind projects. 

“Regardless of the validity of these claims or the likelihood of accomplishment, equally the administration and the offshore wind producers have to be effectively-organized for that,” Vizcarra reported. 

A Vineyard Wind spokesperson claimed the enterprise does not remark on pending litigation. 

A spokesperson for G.E. Renewable Electricity, the maker of the Haliade-X wind turbines to be applied in the venture, also declined comment, other than to place out that the technologies not long ago obtained certification verifying that it can withstand hurricane-level winds. He did not specify what that suggests in phrases of optimum wind speeds. 

A litigation ‘all-star’

Connecticut regulators are pretty common with Melone’s identify. Allco sued the state in federal court a few times in between 2013 and 2016, every time hard the state’s renewable power procurement method. Immediately after the promises were being dismissed, Allco appealed to no avail. 

Ari Peskoe, director of the electrical energy law initiative at Harvard Law, tracks difficulties to condition thoroughly clean strength coverage on his Point out Power Venture internet site. Allco has filed so several such problems Peskoe considers the firm an “all-star” on the site. 

In the circumstance that started the collection of Connecticut suits, Melone was effectively “a let down bidder” who hadn’t been chosen by the Section of Vitality and Environmental Security in a ask for for proposals for renewable power initiatives, Peskoe explained. 

“So he determined he was heading to test to invalidate the entire course of action,” he reported.

Robert Klee, then the commissioner of the condition Office of Electrical power and Environmental Safety, was the named defendant in the situations. Now a lecturer at the Yale Faculty of the Natural environment and Yale Law Faculty, Klee declined to comment.

Melone has also experienced some successes in his state coverage issues, maybe most notably in California. In 2017, right after various several years of litigation, the U.S. District Court docket in the Northern District of California agreed with Allco that a condition renewable electrical power procurement system was in violation of the Community Utility Regulatory Procedures Act, identified as PURPA. He gained a identical obstacle in Massachusetts. 

Melone’s lawful battles have potentially been fought most fiercely in Vermont, wherever Smith, the environmental activist, states he has filed about a dozen appeals in point out Supreme Courtroom above a variety of issues.

Most latest litigation is associated to his many years-extended endeavours to establish two solar jobs totaling 4 megawatts on 27 acres of forested land in Bennington. Homeowners in a neighboring household improvement have opposed the designs. And there have been lengthy quarrels as to whether the two initiatives are essentially one, which would violate the 2.2-megawatt cap in the plan beneath which Melone attained his electric power contracts.

The challenge proposals have bounced back and forth concerning the Public Utilities Commission and the courts, as Melone has repeatedly challenged their denials. 

Last calendar year, he filed a federal lawsuit towards utility commissioners and Gov. Phil Scott, alleging that commissioners unfairly bowed to stress from lawmakers and community opponents to reject his tasks. In a response, the state attorney general’s office claimed the criticism evinces the company’s “disgruntlement with currently being topic to Vermont guidelines.” The circumstance was dismissed in March.

Melone has also sued a social media critic in Bennington for defamation. 

Regulators not long ago issued an injunction soon after concluding that Allco and its affiliates had carried out some unauthorized clearing on the Bennington website. In a brief supporting the injunction, an lawyer for the condition Company of Purely natural Sources stated that scarce vegetation and mature trees experienced been ruined by the clearing. 

“The developer has persistently and willfully refused to abide by the commission’s needs in these proceedings,” the attorney wrote. “The developer’s steps have imposed pointless and inappropriate burdens on the functions and their counsel in dealing with and responding to the developer’s unauthorized, unacceptable and persistent conduct.” 

Melone has appealed the injunction.

He denies that he is utilizing a “scorched earth” solution to photo voltaic improvement in Vermont. The functions that use the expression are leveling “baseless attacks” alternatively than addressing the substance of the problems, he says.

Acknowledging that most solar developers just cannot pay for these types of sustained authorized filings, Melone suggests it is an advantage to be ready to take care of cases primarily in-household. But he also believes, like Provey, that there is a white knight aspect to his prodigious authorized routines. 

“If I wasn’t an attorney,” he explained, “we wouldn’t be in a position to assistance the citizens in Bridgeport’s environmental justice community end the fuel mobile plant.” As if his plate was not comprehensive plenty of, he’s got another fuel mobile venture in his sights. FuelCell Vitality just submitted a petition for an 8.4-megawatt facility in Hartford, Connecticut. Melone states he fully expects Allco will intervene.

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