Legal Team

James Birkelund


Practice Areas

  • Environmental Law, Climate Change & Sustainability
  • Litigation


  • University of Michigan, J.D.
  • University of Michigan, M.S.
  • Colgate University, B.A.


  • State of California
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of California
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California
  • U.S. District Court, Southern District of California


James Birkelund’s practice focuses on utilities, regulatory, energy, and environmental law.  Mr. Birkelund has substantial experience advocating before administrative bodies, litigating, and representing clients with utility matters.  He also serves as a Director and President of Small Business Utility Advocates.

Key Professional Activities

  • Advise small renewable energy companies as outside general counsel, including on transactional, regulatory, and utility matters.
  • Represent intervenors and other parties on matters before Public Utility Commissions (PUC), including in California, Colorado, South Dakota, and Oregon.
  • Litigate on behalf of nonprofit clients in federal and California courts on environmental and other matters.

Sample Engagements

  • Advised solar industry client on protecting solar incentives by intervening before Colorado PUC.
  • Represented client in providing energy efficiency products to third parties that qualify for loan programs with Southern California Edison.
  • Negotiated hydropower agreements with Irrigation District in California, including provisions related to utility connections and net energy metering.
  • Provided counsel for Indian Tribe on pipeline-related approvals before PUC in South Dakota.
  • Drafted solar photovoltaic agreements that include provisions related to utility connections and rebate programs.
  • Successfully represented client in Indian Tribe dispute and won motion to dismiss case in U.S. District Court of Northern California.
  • Settled environmental action under Clean Water Act on behalf of nonprofit client to force defendant to clean up stormwater discharges.
  • Advised utility regarding compliance with new and revised utility laws and regulations.
  • Represented client on matters related to Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project and Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity at California PUC.
  • Negotiated terms of “Hardship Efficiency Program” on behalf of utility to educate low-income households on energy efficiency.
  • Advised utility on new initiative to procure and sell tradable renewable energy certificates.
  • Negotiated contracts (up to $60 million) on behalf of utility’s internal traders to procure and sell energy.
  • Evaluated and submitted administrative comments on proposed 500-megawatt hydroelectric dam project in Southern California.
  • Established working group with nonprofit groups to evaluate renewable energy plans, including solar proposals in central desert of California.
  • Analyzed and advised public officials on San Diego Gas & Electric’s Sunrise Powerlink project before the California PUC.
  • Analyzed and commented on U.S. Department of Energy proposals for nationwide transmission corridors for up to 500kV.

Nonprofit Positions

  • Outside General Counsel for Small Business Utility Advocates, a nonprofit organization advocating for small businesses and their utility concerns.

Community and Volunteer

  • Serve as Judge Pro Tem for San Francisco Superior Court on day-of-trial settlement conferences.
  • Former Council Member of the Venice Neighborhood Community Council, Los Angeles, California.


  • Teach negotiations classes to law students as an Adjunct Professor at Hastings College of Law, San Francisco, California.

Recent Publications

  • “Discover How Small Businesses Can Fight Against High Utility Costs,” Dynamic, Issue 4, March 2014.