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Lindsey Sands – Vicinity Energy

VP helps bring steam power into 21st century at Vicinity Energy

What’s sexy about steam power? Not much, but decarbonization is the hot topic in the energy industry nowadays. And Vicinity Energy is aiming to be a trailblazer on that front. It’s gearing up to produce greener steam in certain city centers where it operates.

Specifically, the Boston-based district energy company is promising net zero carbon steam, known as eSteam™, through the electrification of its operations. And laying the legal groundwork for those efforts is Associate General Counsel Lindsey Sands.

Lindsey Sands | Vice President & Associate General Counsel | Vicinity Energy

Lindsey Sands | Vice President & Associate General Counsel | Vicinity Energy

“I like that what’s old is new again, in a way,” Sands says. “What’s been cool since we became Vicinity is this real focus on greening everything. We are a real solution for decarbonization in these city centers. We convert a central plant, and our 70 million square feet of service area is suddenly net carbon zero. I do feel like it’s a way to make change and address the climate change problem.”

She’s been with Vicinity since the private equity fund Antin Infrastructure Partners bought the district energy portfolio from the French multinational Veolia in 2019 and rebranded the portfolio as Vicinity Energy. But Sands has been working on that portfolio for roughly 10 years and says there’s a lot of loyalty among the people working on it.

“We’re close-knit; many of us have been around a long time,” she says. “But given our current strategy and direction, we’ve also been able to pick up some bright new talent. And given the growth targets we’re trying to achieve, there’s a lot of all-hands-on-deck commitment.”

Bringing eSteam to Fenway

Vicinity is expanding into the Fenway neighborhood of Boston with a new district energy plant. Sands has already helped sign Vicinity’s first client in that neighborhood—a lab space that has agreed to be the first eSteam™ customer—negotiating the base contract as well as the amendment to add the sale and purchase of eSteam™.

Vicinity has already bought the e-boiler for the production of eSteam™. Sands has also executed a memorandum of understanding with a developer who will manufacture the industrial-sized heat pump necessary for the process to work. And when she spoke to Vanguard in April, she was in the thick of negotiating the construction contract to extend Vicinity pipes into the area.

Why Boston? Because there’s a big push in the city for commercial buildings to be net zero, she says. The city of Boston has introduced new rules, known as BERDO 2.0, that will take effect in 2025. Commercial developers and building owners will be hit with substantial fees based on the emissions generated by how they heat their buildings.

“A lot of buildings have their own standalone natural gas boilers to heat the building,” Sands says. “Instead of using that natural gas boiler, you hook up with us—and the generation of our heat will be net zero because we’ll be using an electric boiler, we’ll be acquiring green energy to run that boiler, so that our customer gets the benefit of all that net zero that we have generated at the central plant.”

Lindsey Sands | Vice President & Associate General Counsel | Vicinity Energy

Vicinity also has to build a brand-new pipe out to that area, and to make that economically viable, it needs more than one eSteam™ customer. Sands says Vicinity “has proposals out there now” and is working to sign up more customers.

“It’s a new space, and a substantial portion of the customers we’ll be targeting will be lab space,” she says. “Our product is very beneficial to lab spaces for humidification sterilization, so [Fenway] is just a nice target area for us.”

The first phase of Vicinity’s electrification plan will go online by 2024. If it works as Vicinity hopes, eSteam™ may catch on in more cities.

From Boston to Philly to Baltimore

Vicinity’s goal is to expand the electrification of facilities beyond Boston. For example, Sands and her colleagues are working on plans for electrifying its district energy plant in the center city district of Philadelphia. Many of Vicinity’s customers there are universities and hospitals with critical care facilities—large customers that are especially vulnerable to the types of fees Boston is instituting, and that stand to benefit from eSteam™.

“We expect other cities to adopt similar [regulatory] regimes—so we will be doing similar conversions in Philly, Baltimore, eventually Kansas City—you know, everywhere else,” she says.

Sands has been crafting the legal strategy for that electrification push, including looking into creative tax credit structures. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, there are now a lot of tax incentives and other financial benefits to building green. In particular, under Section 48 of the tax code, there are ways to help with the financing of the types of projects Vicinity is undertaking and then pass some of those benefits on to Vicinity customers.

Philadelphia has its own complexities because Vicinity is highly regulated there, so determining its rollout strategy is taking more time. When she’s not working on that, Sands has also been overseeing the marketing and sign-up efforts surrounding eSteam™ and trying to meet the deadline for applications under the Section 48 program this summer.

Rising to VP

A 2000 graduate of the University of Michigan, Sands earned her J.D. from Boston College in 2004. Her first job out of law school was as an associate at Sidley Austin in Chicago.

Lindsey Sands | Vice President & Associate General Counsel | Vicinity Energy

Then, in 2006, she joined Holland & Knight in Boston. Six years later, she went in-house to Veolia, an energy, water and waste management company, serving as corporate counsel, then senior counsel, then assistant general counsel. In 2020, she took on her current role with Vicinity.

A board member of New Ecology, Inc. and the former legal director of the Women’s Energy Network, Boston chapter, Sands leads a busy life centered around raising her young daughter and two sons. But she says her work life at Vicinity, while demanding, has never been a drain on her energy—and that’s thanks in part to her supportive, friendly colleagues.

“I feel like there’s a lot of respect, a lot of teamwork, not a ton of ‘not my role’ kind of mentality,” she says. “It’s been a challenging but a very rewarding three-plus years.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer II 2023 Edition here.

Published on: June 6, 2023

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