Foot Anstey advises Solivus on one of the largest solar installations in the South East: Q&A with Legal Director Mark Greatholder

Leading renewable energy tech company Solivus is set to install their light-weight solar panels at Farnborough Airport, which will be one of the largest solar installations in the South East.

The panels will cover roof space such as the airport’s curved hangar roof and aim to generate 25% of the airport’s total electricity, also enabling its vehicles to be charged using self-generated energy.

The climate tech company, Solivus, who are pioneers of a light-weight solar market worth billions, was supported with legal advice from Foot Anstey.

Q&A with Mark Greatholder, Legal Director at Foot Anstey LLP

Please explain the professional role your team had in advising Solivus on this project?

I lead the Commercial Energy team within the law firm Foot Anstey’s broader Energy, Projects, Infrastructure and Construction team.

As you might expect, we are heavily immersed in the Energy & Infrastructure sector – a sector specialism for the firm. For almost a decade, we have been growing our reputation as a leading provider of specialist legal advice on solar, storage and other low-carbon energy projects. We have helped clients develop over 150 utility-scale solar and battery storage projects in the UK and overseas, including roof-top solar portfolios, co-located assets and up to DCO-scale projects.

As a team we work with clients across the whole development lifestyle of their clean energy projects. This includes securing land rights, obtaining planning consents, establishing joint development agreements, construction and operation, routes to market (including power purchase arrangements) and grid connections, right the way through to contract management and dispute resolution. Demonstrating our strength in a competitive market, we are one of just a small number of legal firms ranked in the Legal 500 Green Guide.

Solivus instructed us to provide legal support on their Farnborough Airport solar panel project. Our brief was to assist the brilliant Solivus team with establishing the project documents needed to enable them to start installing their fantastic lightweight solar solution on the airport’s curved hangar roof, which they are set to do next year.

From your experience working on projects which promote a positive environmental impact and with your expertise in clean energy, what was different about this project compared to other projects that you are involved in?

I am incredibly fortunate to work in a sector where I can support clients to deliver their clean energy and sustainable mobility projects. There are some passionate and innovative people and organisations out in the market doing remarkable things to promote positive environmental impact.

Solivus is one such organisation that we are proud to work with. The team at Solivus is on a mission to decarbonise the built environment with their innovative light-weight solar solutions that can be installed on buildings unsuitable for conventional solar solutions, either due to weight, planning, or aesthetic issues.

All clean energy projects are unique and give rise to their own set of legal issues that we help our clients navigate. On this project, the Solivus team will be helping Farnborough Airport reduce its own carbon emissions and become more self-sufficient in terms of its energy demands. Without organisations like Solivus innovating to create solutions like this one, energy intensive buildings such as the ones at Farnborough Airport would have to look at other options, such as identifying suitable land for the installation of ground-mounted solar panels or using other forms of renewable energy.

All businesses need to be looking at their sustainability agendas and many organisations in the built environment are already exploring some form of decarbonisation projects. We work with a lot of clients operating within a range of different market sectors, including retail, developers, water and waste and national charities on these projects, so solutions like the ones being offered by Solivus have a broad application and should be of interest within the market in general.

What were some of the challenges you faced during this project with Solivus and how did you and your team effectively manage this to find a solution?

From a practical perspective, the critical issues for the parties were not unusual and were focussed on agreeing the programme for the installation works to be carried out, which aligned with Solivus’ ability to complete the works on time and within the airport’s required timescales. This included considering the impact that any adverse weather might have on the programme for delivery. Once the panels are installed, the parties were interested in ensuring the panels were operated and correctly maintained to maximise energy generation and minimise the risk of equipment failure, a drop in generation or other reactive maintenance needs.

As legal advisers, our role was to support the Solivus team by providing strategic, commercially astute advice on the contracting structure and the drafting and negotiating of a clear and manageable contract with the proper pricing structure, incentivisation, risk allocation, and project controls to enable successful project delivery.

Can you talk us through how you and your team were able to come to a conclusion with Farnborough Airport while supporting your clients wishes?

At Foot Anstey, our motto is ‘Powering your ambition’ because we see our role as helping our clients achieve their goals faster and unlock new and exciting opportunities for success.

One of our core values is to be ‘Refreshingly Human’ in all we do. We want our clients to work with a committed partner who will get to know its business operations, culture, and preferred ways of working. We also regularly get positive feedback from counterparties on projects who comment that we genuinely take a collaborative approach to achieving results.

We pride ourselves on seeing the bigger picture and understanding what the true commercial drivers are for each of the parties in a project so that we can help address any concerns sensibly and pragmatically. By taking time to understand what issues were important for both Solivus and Farnborough Airport, we were able to address those concerns in a way that didn’t create any unwanted or unintended challenges for either party.

Our sector knowledge was also a key reason we were able to successfully support this project. We have significant expertise, experience in the clean energy sector, and understand the current market trends and how other projects are managing and mitigating against certain project risks. This allowed us to bring a lot of knowledge and insight to the table. Our renewable energy expertise, together with our deep understanding of the Solivus business, enabled us to empower the Solivus team to have positive and informed discussions with Farnborough Airport.

It helped that Solivus and Farnborough Airport were aligned in what they wanted to achieve, so our job was to help them get to where they wanted as efficiently as possible. The end result was extremely positive for both parties. I was also supported by a great team – Senior Associate Aliki Zeri and Solicitor Liam Henderson both played a pivotal role assisting the Solivus team. A lot of credit must also go to Solivus themselves, who were ultimately responsible for success in landing this important project with Farnborough Airport.

What motivates you to take on sustainable projects like this one, and is this something valuable for Foot Anstey in terms of growth?

The energy and infrastructure markets touch and concern every aspect of our businesses and daily lives. The UK’s energy requirements are high on the government’s agenda, with policy under constant review, making for a continuously transitioning market. The pressure posed by net zero targets and climate emergency declarations, the rapid decentralisation and digitalisation of the sector, changes or removal of subsidies, and the emergence of new transformative technologies all require a strategic response.

In the face of these challenges, it’s exciting to see the emergence of multi-faceted projects involving renewables, battery storage, and EV charging that are considering the increasing importance of data in energy applications. It is, therefore, extremely easy to get motivated about supporting clients with their sustainable energy projects – it’s not only an exciting sector to work in, but you know that by doing so, you are helping to contribute to a greener future.

In addition to acting for businesses where energy generation projects are part of their core business operations, I also get to work with a range of businesses operating across a number of different sectors, such as retail and leisure, developers and utilities, so by having a specialist Energy, Projects, Infrastructure and Construction team at Foot Anstey is extremely beneficial for us to be able to support other clients that we work with as a firm, where clean energy generation and other sustainability projects might not be part of their core business operations.

Being a responsible business is essential to Foot Anstey, including investing in a brighter future for our environment. We continuously review the sustainability of our business operations to set ambitious targets for improvement. Like Solivus, as a firm, we are passionate about contributing to the green economy and decarbonisation of the built environment, and we’re delighted to have supported such an innovative company with this project.

It’s evident that sustainable energy is the future and that’s why having a robust and specialist energy sector team at Foot Anstey will play a very important part in the firm’s future growth.

This article was originally published in Lawyer Monthly.  

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