Features

Kevin Baker – rPlus Energies

Attorney navigates regulatory channels for renewable energy projects

Kevin Baker is helping rPlus Hydro provide low-cost and reliable electricity from renewable sources by managing the legal matters for 12 pumped storage hydroelectric projects.

Though it would seem the company is riding the crest of a new wave of power generation and energy storage solutions, the reality is his work as deputy general counsel for the pumped storage hydropower projects flows through multiple channels.

That’s because as Baker helps guide these projects, which he compares to large water batteries, he navigates often challenging federal, state and local permitting channels well before construction—which can take many years—begins.

Kevin Baker | Deputy General Counsel, Hydro | rPlus Energies

Kevin Baker | Deputy General Counsel, Hydro | rPlus Energies

For instance, Baker says preparing the license application for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission takes two to four years. Then it can take an additional three to five years to get governmental approval for an operating license—before construction begins.

“The projects we’re developing are vital to the future reliability and efficiency of the nation’s electrical grids as we transition from fossil fuels,” Baker says. “My years of experience in dealing with large national and international infrastructure projects have helped me to find meaningful solutions for these projects to succeed.”

Formed for a renewable future

Headquartered in Salt Lake City, rPlus Energies was founded in 2018 to design, develop and construct renewable energy and power storage projects. It specializes in utility-scale solar plants, wind farms and pumped storage hydropower projects. rPlus Hydro, where Baker provides his legal support, is a subsidiary.

The White Pine Pumped Storage project in Nevada and Seminoe Pumped Storage project in Wyoming typify rPlus Hydro’s and Baker’s work.

Studies and public outreach for the White Pine project began in 2019 with construction planned to begin in 2026 after permits are obtained. The project is a closed-loop system with two man-made reservoirs, one in the Steptoe Valley and one in the mountain range above. The water stored in the upper reservoir will flow through turbines to produce up to 1,000 megawatts of power and provide energy to the region’s electrical grid for up to eight hours per day.

Kevin Baker | Deputy General Counsel, Hydro | rPlus Energies

The project also includes construction of an underground generating facility and a 25-mile transmission line to the Robinson Summit Substation operated by NV Energy.

The Seminoe Pumped Storage project, to be built about 35 miles northeast of Rawlins, Wyoming, is an open-loop system Baker says is close to his heart because he previously worked in Wyoming while at Rio Tinto, an international mining company.

Unlike White Pine, the Seminoe project will use the existing Seminoe reservoir for its lower reservoir and a new reservoir will be built 1,000 feet above. Studies and public outreach for the project began in 2019 and rPlus Hydro plans to begin construction in 2026 after permits are obtained. The Seminoe project will generate and store up to 900 megawatts of power for up to 10 hours.

Baker says the project is crucial to the region’s energy transmission facilities because it supports Wyoming’s growing wind generation development efforts.

“Projects like White Pine and Seminoe are highly sought after by utilities because they allow them to make their operations more reliable and efficient,” Baker says.

Complex permitting processes

White Pine and Seminoe also typify the permitting complexities Baker faces in getting large energy infrastructure projects approved.

While FERC generally licenses pumped storage projects, it’s not the only regulatory agency Baker works with. The projects are often located on public lands requiring Bureau of Land Management or other agency approvals for needed generation facilities and transmission lines.

Kevin Baker | Deputy General Counsel, Hydro | rPlus Energies

Other federal and state agencies will also conduct regulatory reviews relating to a project’s environmental, cultural, recreation or design safety, among other areas. Baker is well versed in working with these government agencies but adds that doesn’t mean the agencies are in complete harmony in their reviews.

“I strive to seamlessly integrate these projects into their respective communities within the required regulatory framework,” he says. “My goal is to bring everyone together to find effective processes and results that allows each agency to make informed decisions for each project.”

Renewing his career

After graduating from Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in international finance while minoring in music and German, Baker faced a dilemma—should he pursue an MBA or a J.D.?

So, the native of Oregon chose both and returned to his home state and enrolled in the University of Oregon’s joint degree program in its Lundquist College of Business and School of Law.

After graduating, Baker joined Graymont, the third-largest producer of lime in North America, as its in-house counsel in 1999. Working in Bellingham, Washington, he was responsible for drafting and negotiating commercial and procurement contracts.

In March 2001, Baker moved to Wyoming joining international mining company Rio Tinto as a corporate mining attorney. After his boss retired in January 2004, Baker was named director and chief legal officer for Rio Tinto’s U.S. energy group, then the second largest coal company in the United States. In 2010, he moved to Utah and became Rio Tinto’s corporate counsel for M&A where he supported large-scale business development projects in North and South America.

Kevin Baker | Deputy General Counsel, Hydro | rPlus Energies

Baker left Rio Tinto in May 2013 when he became a senior attorney with Twin Metals Minnesota. After he was named vice president and director of legal affairs in January 2015, he managed legal and regulatory affairs, including meeting with members of Congress and White House staff to steward the development of the Twin Metals copper mine. He also worked with local and indigenous communities, private parties, governmental officials, regulatory agencies and nonprofits to craft processes, policies and practical solutions for the mine’s operations.

Baker is an author, avid golfer, ballroom dancer, mountain biker and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He created a comic strip with over 900 comics relating to the life experiences of single adults. He’s also published a book on single adults in faith-based organizations and speaks on the topic across the U.S.

Baker joined rPlus Energies in November 2021. He enjoys using his legal knowledge and extensive experience working with the government and communities on the company’s pumped storage projects.

“These are multibillion dollar energy storage projects necessary for the U.S. to transition to a cleaner form of energy generation,” he says. “There is no greater professional reward than to find effective legal, commercial, regulatory and community solutions that allow the construction and long-term operation for these types of projects.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Fall III 2023 Edition here.

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