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Caitlin Smith, Invenergy

Episode 37 | March 26, 2019

Caitlin Smith, Manager of Government and Regulatory Affairs at Invenergy, sits down with hosts Kyle Frazier and Tim Duffy to explain how Invenergy is investing in Texas, building new sustainable energy projects, creating jobs, and collaborating with stakeholders to create growth.

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The Making of an Energy Attorney: Meet Caitlin Smith

Caitlin Smith is the Manager of Government and Regulatory Affairs at Invenergy. In that role, she engages with the three entities that touch electric power regulation in Texas: the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT), and the Texas legislature.

Born in Bakersfield, California (home of the Houston Texans’ David Carr), Smith’s family moved around before settling in Houston. Her dad, an oil & gas attorney, encouraged her to become an environmental attorney. With his offshore permitting experience, he understood the importance of environmental regulation and the connection between pipeline supply and the generation side.

Smith got an economics degree at The University of Texas at Austin and then went to law school in Pennsylvania, graduating in 2009. Similar to Josh Rhodes, she started her career in the early stages of the Great Recession. She moved to Denver to pursue an LLM degree, a post-J.D. master’s degree, in Environmental and Research Law, and then went to work for Chesapeake in Oklahoma.

She returned to Austin, Texas six years ago to serve as the Independent Market Monitor for ERCOT. Texas has a self-contained electric grid that does not fall under FERC jurisdiction, a unique structure that enables ERCOT to make decisions quickly to ensure electric grid reliability. We also have an energy-only market in Texas, which means that we do not pay forward for capacity. That puts ERCOT in the position of meeting supply and demand in almost real-time.

After leaving ERCOT, Smith consulted for various clients. She worked with Michael Jewell, attorney and lobbyist who represented clean energy clients including utility scale wind, solar, rooftop solar, demand response, and energy efficiency. It was through those efforts that she ended up at Invenergy.

Texas Wind, Solar, and Jobs: About Invenergy

U.S.-based Invenergy is the largest privately held clean energy developer with global reach. The company has developed over 22,000 megawatts (MW) of wind, solar, storage, and natural gas projects and completed over $30 billion in transactions. Invenergy entered the Texas market ten to fifteen years ago and has since completed $5 billion in transactions. That represents almost 3,000 MW of mostly wind projects, along with a natural gas plant and a lot of solar in development.

“Solar is what’s hot right now,” says Smith. “I think in Texas what we try to emphasize is using all of our resources, which include wind and solar and natural gas.”

Smith points out that solar is an on-peak resource, which complements wind nicely because the generation of each energy source peaks at different times of day.

She says that Invenergy is working on many interesting and even unexpected projects for the future, with a focus on economics. She goes on to say that storage will be the game-changer for sustainable energy, but we are not yet at the tipping point where it is economical.

One key aspect of Invenergy’s projects is job creation. Smith highlighted a 2018 project called Santa Rita in Reagan County, a 300 MW wind farm that created over 200 jobs. The landowner had such a positive experience that Invenergy is now in the process of completing a second project in a neighboring county. Santa Rita East will add another 300 MW of wind energy to the Texas grid and will create another 300 jobs during construction.

She acknowledges that while most of the construction jobs tend to move on to the next project, there are some permanent jobs for operations and maintenance that remain in the local area.

Protecting Growth and Working Together the Texas Way: The 2019 Legislature

Smith says that Invenergy’s message to the Texas Legislature is that the current market structure is working well and bringing a lot of investment into Texas. The company’s key legislative priorities this session are the extension of Chapter 312 and keeping Chapter 313 intact. The pair of tax abatements support renewable as well as chemical and industrial projects, and they help determine which investments will come to Texas. “It’s significant to these rural communities where we build wind farms, because it ups the tax base by a lot, puts new money into the school district and into the schools.”

She also mentions an energy storage bill that will be interesting to watch. It addresses utility ownership of energy storage in the deregulated market. There is a debate over who can use energy storage, for what, and how to recover the money from that investment.

The bill was introduced by a staffer on the business and commerce committee who used to work at the PUC. Smith points to this bill as an example of our state’s uniquely collaborative approach to energy regulations. Elsewhere, regulations can be issued as a top-down mandate from FERC or other entities, leaving stakeholders to figure it out how to implement them.

Smith goes on to say that ERCOT has a robust stakeholder process, as well. Any stakeholder can introduce a protocol change, which then goes through working groups with generators, municipalities, cooperatives, utilities, and consumer groups. Each stakeholder can shape the outcome.

According to Smith, those compromises lead to better solutions that ultimately address everyone’s needs. “Texas in general takes a really collaborative approach,” she says.

How to Learn More

Smith says that Invenergy has 16 active projects in the Lone Star State and 17 projects that are very close to operational. Learn more at InvenergyTexas.com. You can also find out more about the company’s efforts to bring more wind energy to Texas as part of the Powering Texas Alliance at PoweringTexas.com.

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