A&L Goodbody’s dedicated energy team is at the heart of the Northern Ireland economy.
The energy sector in Northern Ireland is one of the most exciting and dynamic.
From evolving infrastructure to constantly changing generation and storage trends, there are few other industries which can boast such varied moving parts, nor indeed play such an essential role in driving the overall economy.
Because of its complexity and fluidity, it requires exacting expertise to truly understand how the sector works and to keep up with the inevitable changes in the future as the world weans itself off fossil fuels.
A&L Goodbody’s Energy and Natural Resources team has some of the deepest sector-specific knowledge of all law firms on the island of Ireland and the UK, according to Partner in A&L Goodbody’s Belfast office, Mark Stockdale.
Stockdale explains that A&L Goodbody has built up such an impressive reputation that it is now the go-to law firm on both sides of the border for legal advice on nearly every significant energy-related project, deal or dispute and behind that success is the fact its lawyers are true energy sector experts.
In moving back from England to Northern Ireland in 2012 to join A&L Goodbody, Stockdale explains that he was drawn to the sector and as a result he has been involved in most of the large energy projects which have taken place.
“Our key selling point is that we have a dedicated team of energy specialists who are immersed in the industry in both Belfast and Dublin,” he says. “If you really want cross border, joined-up thinking, there is no other law firm on the island of Ireland which can provide it.
“Collectively we have a huge range of experience and we are constantly leveraging each other’s knowledge for the benefit of our clients. We have lots of expertise in new technologies coming into the sector, sometimes through our Dublin office and sometimes through Belfast.
“For instance, we already have significant expertise in solar and renewable gas in Belfast which are now emerging in the Irish market. It’s that depth of experience and sharing culture which is really helpful.”
Stockdale is one of the A&L Goodbody partners dedicated to the energy sector and the first in Belfast following his recent promotion. The firm now has six partners across both jurisdictions who are dedicated to the sector along with experts in construction, property, planning and environmental law. This makes it by far the largest team on the island.
They are all well-known experts in the sector and all equipped with the skills to chart a course for clients through the ever-changing, growing sector.
It is for that reason the Belfast energy team’s expansion is timely.
“We have been heavily involved in the onshore wind and solar sectors for some time now, but it is really exciting to see new technologies emerging such as hydrogen, renewable gas and electric vehicles.” Stockdale explains. “We also continue to have a strong pipeline of M&A and project finance work.”
With no renewable incentives in Northern Ireland at the moment, the development of new wind and solar projects has slowed down. However, some developers are looking for creative routes to market for their power to support subsidy free projects. This has meant an increase in demand for specialist regulatory advice. In comparison, the renewed focus by the Irish Government on renewables targets has meant that the market for new projects in Ireland has remained strong.
In addition, tightening environmental standards and concerns around climate change are driving activity in the energy sector across the island.
“Energy regulation is getting more complex so we are involved in providing an increasing amount of regulatory advice as well as handling disputes. That is only going to increase in the future as subsidies begin to decrease and conventional thermal power stations close down in favour of wind and solar energy generation,” he adds.
The geopolitical environment is also likely to keep the energy sector busy in the coming months given Brexit is likely to see legislative issues for the all-island electricity market. That is particularly true given the focus on the North-South Interconnector, a project to link the electricity market in both jurisdictions.
“Much will depend on how Brexit unfolds but, because we have strength in the sector on both sides of the border, we are in a unique position to tackle any issues which emerge. In terms of the interconnector, we need it to provide consistency of supply as renewables won’t replace thermal power overnight,” says Stockdale.
At the other end of the cycle the A&L Goodbody team have also been busy. He adds: “We’ve been involved in the sector for some time and have seen some projects which haven’t worked out as planned. This means that we have a lot of experience in working out distressed energy projects for lenders and investors” Stockdale said. “This is a unique selling point for us because we can use this experience to help our clients structure new projects in a way which manages their risk.”
Despite the entry of new technologies and the active M&A market the future for the energy sector in Northern Ireland remains volatile.
“The sector remains bumpy but because it is so vital to the wider economy and at such an exciting time of its evolution, activity is only likely to pick up. We have a range of key clients and look forward to working with them to help create an energy sector of the future.”
T: +4428 9072 7456