Sites of Conflict: Lessons learned from utility-scale solar in California

Five years in to the “New Gold Rush” of California renewable energy, what lessons have been learned from the siting, permitting and deployment of utility-scale solar facilities? How might these inform more effective policies going forward? Siting factors including endangered species conflicts and proximity to existing transmission, and policy factors including public participation in decision-making and agricultural land considerations will be addressed by a panel of experts from industry, the environment, and academia.

Moderator: Steve Weissman, Director of the Energy Program, Center for Law, Energy & the Environment, U.C. Berkeley School of Law

Steve Weissman came to Berkeley Law from the California Public Utilities Commission where he was an administrative law judge. He also served as policy and legal advisor to three different commissioners at the PUC. He is an energy and environmental attorney, and an environmental mediator. Prior to his appointment as an administrative law judge in 1988, he was a staff attorney at the PUC, working on renewable energy and energy efficiency proceedings, as well as cases involving implementation of the California Environmental Quality Act. He has taught energy law and policy classes at Berkeley Law since 2006. Mr. Weissman holds a M.P.A. from Harvard University, a J.D. from UC Davis, and a B.A. from University of Michigan.


Dustin Mulvaney, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Energy Resources, Department of Environmental Studies, San Jose State University

Dr. Mulvaney’s research is on the social and environmental impacts of solar energy commodity chains, drawing on frameworks from science studies and political ecology.  This research involves multi-sited ethnography and life cycle analysis along the solar commodity chain from Chinese manufacturing facilities to solar farms in the US Desert Southwest. Dr. Mulvaney is also a senior research scientist with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s Just and Sustainable Solar Energy campaign and co-founded EcoShift Consulting, a climate change and low carbon energy consulting firm. Dr. Mulvaney received his Ph.D. from the Environmental Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz. He has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and M.S. in Environmental Policy Studies from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Lisa Belenky, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity

Lisa T. Belenky is a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. Her work focuses on the protection of rare and endangered species and their habitats under state and federal law on public lands throughout California and the southwest. Her work includes litigation and policy advocacy regarding: endangered species listing petitions and critical habitat designation; recovery plan development and implementation; site specific projects; and land use planning. Over the last few years, Ms. Belenky has spent innumerable hours on legal and policy issues related to siting large-scale renewable energy projects on public and private lands. Ms. Belenky received her J.D. from UC Berkeley School of Law (1999) and her B.A. in Philosophy from UC Santa Cruz.

Mike Sintetos, Renewable Energy Project Manager, Bureau of Land Management, California State Office

Mike Sintetos is the renewable energy program lead for the Bureau of Land Management’s California State Office.  The BLM manages more than 15 million acres of public lands in California, which have attracted interest in solar, wind, and geothermal energy development.  The BLM has approved six solar and two wind projects on California public lands since 2010.  Mike has been with the BLM’s renewable energy program for 2 ½ years. Mr. Sintetos holds a M.S. in Natural Resources and Environment from University of Michigan and a B.S. in Psychology from UC Davis.

Mark Fillinger, First Solar, Director of Development

Mr. Fillinger is responsible for developing First Solar’s utility-scale solar projects and leading the origination team in the US. A 20+-year energy industry executive, Mr. Fillinger has extensive experience with siting, permitting, financing and negotiating all project related contracts, including over 1,000 MW of utility scale PPAs. Before First Solar, Mr. Fillinger worked at NextLight and OptiSolar where he led both development and project finance activities (prior to acquisition by First Solar). Previously, he worked at PowerLight Corporation (now SunPower) where he developed the company’s power purchase agreement offering, negotiating and closing the first $40 million of projects developed under this structure.  Mr. Fillinger holds a M.B.A in Finance from Columbia University and a B.S in Energy Economics from UC Davis.


First Solar and PG&E have graciously shared a series of slides which provide insight into each company, the demand for and challenges associated with renewable energy development, and the large-scale solar development process. This content should provide helpful background for BERC Energy Symposium attendees in advance of Panel 7 – Sites of Conflict: Lessons learned from utility-scale solar in California.

Details from First Solar include:
• Company history and overview
• Development strategy
• Solar project pipeline & locations
• The timeline for project development

Details from PG&E include:
• Company history and overview
• California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)
• RPS implementation & PG&E’s changing energy mix
• RPS challenges