Dale Smith, an energy finance and transactions attorney, has joined Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. Photo via Willkie.com

A law firm again expanded its Houston-based, energy-focused team.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP announced that energy finance and transactions attorney Dale Smith has joined the firm as a partner in the Corporate & Financial Services Department, which will be based in the Houston office. Willkie provides legal solutions to businesses that address critical issues that affect multiple industries and markets with 13 offices worldwide.

Smith was most recently a partner at Mayer Brown, and prior to law, he worked in the electric and gas utility industry as an analyst for Entergy. He currently serves on the Institute for Energy Law Advisory Board. He will manage energy clients in a broad range of transactions from upstream, midstream, and downstream oil and gas, renewable energy, power and energy finance deals.

“Dale’s addition further expands the energy transactional platform we’ve been building in Texas and across the country with our several partner additions this past year,” Archie Fallon, managing partner of the Houston office, says in a news release.

Smith will advise both lenders and borrowers in secured and unsecured credit transactions, which includes asset-based financings, acquisition and project financings, syndicated and structured financings (including tax equity), DIP and bankruptcy exit financings, and borrowing base facilities, letter of credit facilities, working capital facilities, workouts, and restructurings. Smith will also guide clients on the development and commercialization of hydrogen and ammonia facilities, carbon capture projects, renewable power generation facilities, and hydrocarbon facilities across the value chain. This will include gathering, processing, fractionation, transportation and storage facilities.

“Willkie’s dynamic Texas platform and growing national and international energy capabilities are a great fit for my practice and I’m delighted to be a part of that growth,” Smith said in a news release. “I look forward to working with the talented attorneys here to expand our transactional offerings to best serve the needs of our clients.”

Smith is the seventh lateral partner addition to Willkie’s multi-office energy team in the past year.

Willkie recently also announced Sarah McLean as a partner in the Corporate & Financial Services Department and Private Equity practice at the Houston office. McLean’s practice will focus on private equity transactions. Mostly the transactions will be acting for sponsors in making portfolio investments,exiting their investments, and growing their platform companies. McLean was a joint head of the US Energy industry group at Shearman & Sterling prior to Willkie Farr & Gallagher, and her experience in the energy sector includes 20 years.

Sarah McLean brings over 20 years of energy industry experience to her new role at Willkie Farr & Gallagher. Photo via Wilkie.com

New York law firm expands energy practice with new partner appointment

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Willkie Farr & Gallagher has announced that Sarah McLean has joined the firm’s Houston office as a partner. It's the sixth energy industry group hire in the past year.

McLean’s practice will focus on private equity transactions. Mostly the transactions will be acting for sponsors in making portfolio investments, exiting their investments, and growing their platform companies.

“Willkie has leading private equity and transactional capabilities, a fast-growing energy platform and a collaborative culture across the Firm," McLean says in a news release. "I’m excited to join the exceptional team here and further strengthen Willkie’s dynamic work across the energy sector to support the growing needs of our clients.”

McLean was a joint head of the US Energy industry group at Shearman & Sterling prior to Willkie Farr & Gallagher, and her experience in the energy sector includes 20 years.

“Sarah is a standout private equity and energy lawyer and we are pleased to welcome her to Willkie,” Chairman Thomas Cerabino says in the release. ”She brings significant dealmaking experience to our global energy team in Texas and across the U.S. and Europe and will be an invaluable resource to our clients navigating the changing energy market.”

Willkie provides legal solutions to businesses that address critical issues that affect multiple industries and markets with 13 offices worldwide.

“Sarah has a stellar reputation as a market-leading lawyer and dealmaker, with deep private equity and M&A experience in the oil and gas and energy transition sectors that will further the growth of our expanding Texas platform,” Archie Fallon, managing partner of the Houston office, says in a news release. “As clients look for new opportunities in the evolving energy sector, Sarah’s substantial track record and experience will complement our capabilities in Texas and across the firm, and we are thrilled to welcome her to Willkie.”

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Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

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Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”

Houston organization celebrates zero waste goal

earth day win

Discovery Green celebrated Earth Day with a major milestone this year — achieving it’s Zero Waste goal.

The nonprofit, along with Citizens’ Environmental Coalition and Houston Public Works, are announced that the 2024 Green Mountain Energy Earth Day, which generated more than 3,800 pounds of garbage, diverted the majority of that waste from landfills. "Zero Waste," as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is successfully diverting at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill.

On Earth Day, Discovery Green composted 2,200 pounds of waste and recycled 1,300 pounds of trash.

“Part of Discovery Green Conservancy’s mission is to serve as a village green for our city and be a source of health and happiness for all. Our goal is to sustain an exceptional environment for nature and people,” Discover Green President Kathryn Lott says in a news release. “We are beyond thrilled to have achieved Zero Waste certification.”

The achievement was made possible by volunteers from the University of Houston – Downtown.

Steve Stelzer, president of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition’s board of directors, acknowledged how rare the achievement is in a public space in a major city like Houston.

“Discovery Green Conservancy stepped up and made a commitment to weigh, measure and record everything. They should be congratulated to have done this at this scale,” Stelzer adds. “The Conservancy said they were going to do it and they did. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”

The 2024 event included:

  • 31,000 visitors in attendance
  • 60 + exhibitors
  • 100 + volunteers
  • 12 artists
    • 9 chalk artists
    • Donkeeboy and Donkeemom
    • Mark Bradford
  • 25 Mark Bradford artworks made of scrap presented in partnership with Houston First
  • 4 short films shown
  • 3,836.7 pounds of waste collected during Green Mountain Energy Earth Day

Texas hydrogen research hub opens to support statewide, DOE-backed initiative

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A Texas school has cut the ribbon on a new hydrogen-focused research facility that will play a role in a statewide, Department of Energy-funded energy transition initiative.

The Center for Electromechanics at The University of Texas, Frontier Energy, Inc., and GTI Energy celebrated the grand opening of a hydrogen research and demonstration facility in Austin as part of the “Demonstration and Framework for H2@Scale in Texas and Beyond” project, which is supported by the DOE's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

The hydrogen proto-hub is first-of-its-kind and part of Texas-wide initiative for a cleaner hydrogen economy and will feature contributions from organizations throughout the state. The facility will generate zero-carbon hydrogen by using water electrolysis powered by solar and wind energy, and steam methane reformation of renewable natural gas from a Texas landfill.

The hydrogen will be used to power a stationary fuel cell for power for the Texas Advanced Computing Center, and it will also supply zero-emission fuel to cell drones and a fleet of Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicles. This method will mark the first time that multiple renewable hydrogen supplies and uses have been networked at one location to show an economical hydrogen ecosystem that is scalable.

“The H2@Scale in Texas project builds on nearly two decades of UT leadership in hydrogen research and development” Michael Lewis, Research Scientist, UT Austin Center for Electromechanics, say in a news release. “With this facility, we aim to provide the educated workforce and the engineering data needed for success. Beyond the current project, the hydrogen research facility is well-positioned for growth and impact in the emerging clean hydrogen industry.”

Over 20 sponsors and industry stakeholders are involved and include Houston-based partners in Center for Houston’s Future and Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy. Industry heavyweights like Chevron, Toyota, ConocoPhillips, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are also part of the effort.

Texas hydrogen infrastructure and wind and solar resources position the state for clean hydrogen production, as evident in the recently released study, “A Framework for Hydrogen in Texas.” The study was part of a larger effort that started in 2020 with the H2@Scale project, which aims to develop clearer paths to renewable hydrogen as a “clean and cost-effective fuel” according to a news release. The facility will serve as an academic research center, and a model for future large-scale hydrogen deployments.

Participants in the DOE-funded HyVelocity Gulf Coast Hydrogen Hub will aim to gain insights from the H2@Scale project at UT Austin. The project will build towards a development of a comprehensive hydrogen network across the region. HyVelocity is a hub that includes AES Corporation, Air Liquide, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Mitsubishi Power Americas, Orsted, and Sempra Infrastructure. The GTI Energy administered HyVelocity involves The University of Texas at Austin, the Center for Houston’s Future, and Houston Advanced Research Center.

“H2@Scale isn't just about producing low-carbon energy, it's about creating clean energy growth opportunities for communities throughout Texas and the nation,” Adam Walburger, president of Frontier Energy, says in a news release. “By harnessing renewable energy resources to create zero-carbon hydrogen, we can power homes, businesses, transportation, and agriculture – all while creating jobs and reducing emissions.”