Since it was launched in 2021, battery energy storage company Field has expanded at pace, growing its pipeline to 775MW. To support this, it has made a number of key hires in recent months, including Elspeth Vincent joining the company from Ecotricity as general counsel.
Solar Power Portal caught up with her recently to talk about the legal considerations of expanding a storage pipeline at “blitzscale” and ensuring the risk lines up with the rewards.
In terms of a legal perspective, what are the biggest considerations when looking at acquiring a portfolio of projects?
The biggest question is around the risk. When you acquire a project, typically we would do that one of two ways. One is to buy a company that has the project or the other way might be to buy the land or enter into a lease for the land. But either way, at every turn you've got to check, do we have the rights to buy this? Does the seller have the right to sell this to us?
What it effectively means is asking an awful lot of questions to work out the shape and size of the deal to work out if it's worth it, if it's just too risky, if it might ever connect to the grid. So it's the legal teams job to partner carefully with the specialists around the business who are looking at the acquisition and trying to go 100 miles an hour, and we need to keep up.
How often does this legal perception of risk line up with the investment perception of risk?
I think investment risk is prepared to go a little bit further into the dark alleyway of unknown risk or known risk, but prepared to take it. Whereas legal risk is very much on the side of caution.
The luxury that I have working for a company is that I have complete insight into the commercial parameters of a deal. So I can take a view on that risk, whereas a lawyer in private practice might be constrained by professional indemnity insurance or not knowing the depth of the company's ambition or appetite for risk
What would you say the biggest challenges are in terms of expanding portfolio, particularly at the pace Field is looking to do it?
The biggest challenge for me is that the company is going at blitzscale. So it's incredibly fast, it is running as fast as we can go. And the challenge for me will be to make sure that I am standardising, streamlining and fully partnering with everybody in the company as they run at full pelt trying to make this scale happen.
In terms of the energy storage industry more broadly, are there challenges due to it be nascent?
With several decades of renewable builds behind us, grid capacity is constrained, and trying to find that grid capacity is essential. And when I look at this from a funder's perspective, we are seeking investment in the company to help us to grow.
Our plans are like a sort of hockey stick type trajectory. Funders range in their appetite for risk, and certain funders are prepared to take a risk on a nascent technology. Other funders are very experienced in battery storage. Other funders are really experienced in wind and solar, but are just dipping a toe into the water of battery. And what battery storage doesn't have that wind and solar have had is that guaranteed fixed income from a government backed subsidy.
So demonstrating the investment case to a lender is absolutely possible, and it's been done time and again, but I think it depends on the lender. And it's always going to be a little bit different depending on what kind of project or portfolio you're offering up.
Post the acquisition, are there many legal considerations or at that point do you kind of get to dust your hands off a bit and let them operate it?
In the ideal world, I'll have done my job well enough to make sure I never have to look at it again. But the reality is, yes, the legal team will have that purpose throughout the life of an asset.
So once we've entered into all of the contracts that help us to acquire the rights in the project, then we've got land, we might be the tenant under a lease for 40 years, we'll have obligations under that lease, we'll have regulations to comply with for the life of the asset. We'll have different project contracts that go with it, such as the optimisation of the project and its ability to revenue stack.
So constantly through the life of the project, there'll be a need for risk and contractual advice. And one hopes never litigation, but that is where I would be right in there from the start. So yes, the projects don't just disappear out to the legal team as soon as they've reached completion. And again, it's another long term partnership with asset managers in the company.