Not all superheroes wear capes. And not all attorneys working to create sustainable, renewable energy are environmental lawyers.
Case in point: Kyle Hermanson, vice president and deputy general counsel at Invenergy, a Chicago-based, multinational power generation development and operations company. The firm develops, builds, owns, operates, and sells power generation and energy storage globally, with a particular focus on wind, solar, natural gas, and energy storage. The company has developed 191 projects across four continents.
Kyle’s job is in contracts, as he is a business lawyer. And despite the fact his own father, an engineer, worked for utility companies in Kyle’s native state of California, his original career goals didn’t necessarily involve energy or sustainability work. Simply interested in the law, he found work in business transactions to be most appealing.
But shortly after receiving his law degree in 2011, Hermanson joined an independent power generating company; then, subsequently, a building materials company; and next, Invenergy in 2017. He found it natural to return to what, it turns out, is a family industry.
And it fit an ethos of environmental sustainability that had always been there. He recalls that as a child, he was intrigued by an early sustainable practice in the plant where his father worked. His dad’s team figured out how to capture waste production heat and use it to make ammonia, which in turn was used to cool a commercial agricultural operation. “I learned then there was more you could do with energy,” he says. “It was about using it more efficiently.”
Today, he’s resolutely happy to be in the renewable energy business and hopes it will define his career from here on out. He’s a contracts lawyer making sure those plants get built, go into operation, and are owned by whichever entity can make the most of them.
That means contracts to build, contracts to sell, and seeing through power purchase agreements that help utilities deliver green solar and wind energy without having to develop the production capabilities themselves. Most of Invenergy’s wind and solar farms produce between two hundred and three hundred megawatts from investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The company’s biggest project to date, however, is the Traverse Wind Energy Center. It cost one billion dollars to build, will produce almost a gigawatt of electricity—998 megawatts to be accurate—from 531 turbines, and power the equivalent of 440,000 homes. Part of the work involves 80 miles of transmission lines, stretching from the windy central plains of Oklahoma to Tulsa, where the utility is based.
Hermanson is almost electric himself when discussing the excitement of renewable energy in this moment. “We work toward long-term goals,” he says, “but we get discrete accomplishments along the way with projects like the Traverse wind farm.” That project, now owned by American Electric Power, is the biggest wind farm built in a single phase in North America.
His excitement stems in part from the improving technologies of the past decade, as well as what’s on the near-term horizon. He cites several developments—storage (batteries) for when the sun sets and the winds die down, green hydrogen, and high-voltage direct current transmission lines—as significant innovations that he hopes to support as soon as they become feasible.
That said, there are obstacles. The ill-considered US solar tariffs imposed in 2018, which failed in its purported goal to boost domestic solar panel production, to outcompete Asian producers, continue to create supply chain difficulties. “It put uncertainty into the market, which effectively drives producers to sell more in Europe and Asia than the US,” Hermanson says.
Lawyers can and do play a rescue role here. They negotiate contracts for solar farm construction that take out some of those uncertainties. This matters a great deal in the complex, many-moving-parts nature of renewable energy construction.
“With different builders, different equipment, and different materials connecting at just the right time, everyone can work together on a schedule,” Hermanson says. “We make the contracts connect, working in close coordination with construction project managers.”
Invenergy has mastered the process in ways sufficient to draw big investors to their business, including a $3 billion infusion of development cash from Blackstone Infrastructure Partners, announced in early 2022. “This funds the years it takes to hire people, buy land, study environmental impact, and identify interconnection positions for a project, which happens long before we generate power and revenue,” Hermanson explains.
We never learned if superheroes have lawyers. But we do know that super green energy infrastructure does.
McDermott Will & Emery:
“Kyle is a tremendous practitioner, team leader and counsel to his client. He evaluates risks with a keen eye on the business practicalities and has superb judgment. We congratulate Kyle on his success.”
–Chris Gladbach, Partner