Energy Tour Day 1

Touring the damWhile my classmates are leaving town to relax, spring break officially kicked off this morning on a bus with fourteen other law students. I joined a mixture of 1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls who are interested in exploring energy projects scattered across Montana and the legal issues surrounding them. Today marked the end of our first day on this 1,400 mile journey.

Our first stop was in Great Falls at Rainbow Dam. Attorneys, managers, and engineers for Northwestern Energy met us with an engaging lunch before our first lesson began. We started off learning about the hydroelectric projects owned by Northwestern and discovering the vast legal hurdles that have to be carefully navigated with each one.

Students view the damIt was nice to see the connection from our classes being applied in real-world contexts (think navigable waterways and easement across land in property). Additionally, we explored the connection between federal and state regulatory compliance requirements. Did you know it can take over 50 lawyers working non-stop in less than 90 days to meet these standards?

Now that we had the legal basis down, we explored the physical facilities of a working dam. Power production is….powerful. Taking a look at the 60+ foot turbine that generates the electricity I am using right now to power my computer was awe-inspiring. The managers and engineers explained to us some of the regulations they face as well. These ranged from complying with energy output requirements to releasing water for aesthetic purposes.

Viewing the turbinesOur next stop was the Spion Kop wind turbine facility with the tour being led by an attorney, a biologist, and the wind farm manager.  Of everything we heard today, it was powerful to listen to the biologist tell us how much respect he gained for lawyers because they ensured that the interests of everyone involved was protected throughout the licensing process. We learned how different regulations apply to wind farms as well as the specific environmental concerns that had to be addressed. Who knew how much impact wildlife can have on an otherwise innocuous wind turbine? Of course no wind farm tour is complete without staring up into the internal darkness of one of these 300 foot towers.

Day 1 concluded with a dinner hosted by Interim Dean Greg Munro. While enjoying some food after a long day, we discussed what we learned and how it can impact the future of energy development in Montana. It is an early morning for us tomorrow as we begin Day 2 and drive further into the eastern reaches of the state, stopping in Sidney to meet with local planners and lawyers to discuss the future of energy development in Montana.

Written by: Mike Pasque '16