Catching Up with Michelle de Blasi, Fennemore Craig, After Southwest Data Center Summit: “They Can’t Build ’em Fast Enough”
by Josh Anderson
PHOENIX, AZ — Michelle de Blasi is an attorney and Director at Fennemore Craig Attorneys. She focuses her practice on environmental law, with an emphasis on natural resources matters. She advises clients on energy and environmental matters, including traditional and renewable energy project development, environmental permitting and compliance, and greenhouse gas emissions. She has worked at the federal and state levels on various environmental issues, including hazardous waste, air quality, water quality, environmental health and safety, real property due diligence, utility regulation, natural resource damage issues, asbestos, and underground storage tank regulation. She also advises clients on the permitting, siting and contractual agreements for energy generation projects, including traditional and alternative energy, as well as carbon emissions tracking and reporting. Michelle was also a featured speaker at CapRE’s Southwest Data Center Summit in Phoenix on November 2. We caught up with her for a “post-game rundown” Q&A as well as for her thoughts on what’s ahead in the Southwest data center arena. See our conversation with Michelle below.
CapRE: Thanks for chatting with us today. I was great to have you speak at our Southwest Data Center Summit yesterday. Please share with our readers a bit about who you are and what you do.
de Blasi: I practice environmental an energy law. We’re a regional law firm. And we have offices in Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, Reno, and Las Vegas. We cover quite a bit of the western states. We do quite a bit in the data center space. We have a pretty big team of folks who work on pretty much every aspect of data center development and operations. My particular area is helping them in the beginning – environmental due diligence, land signing, and kind of operational issues that may come up. I work pretty closely with our real estate group on that stuff.
CapRE: I see. And what have you been up to most recently?
de Blasi: Generally speaking I’ve been seeing a lot of development and tying up land for future development – getting it ready, developing it for future data centers. I’m also seeing a lot in the tech world with driverless vehicles and that sort of thing, going along with the development of data centers. It’ll be interesting to watch, what I think will be changing technology, with driverless vehicles.
CapRE: And how was the Phoenix summit?
de Blasi: It was good. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole day but there was a really great mix of folks who are the real experts in the industry. It was the second year I attended and it was great. I was on the M&A pane and the energy panel. I got a lot of comments on the energy panel since we only had a half hour. We had a lot of discussion that people really wanted to hear.
CapRE: So what topics do you think will be on tap for next year?
de Blasi: Well, you never know. The industry could change overnight. This happens and it’s not anticipated. You’re probably going to see more regulation in carbon emissions. That will have to be dealt with in the next year or so with EPA policies for coal plants. These larger facilities, especially large ones, have a lot of generators and will have to deal with new missions. The energy issue is definitely going to be something we can talk about, in terms of what advancements are happening. Energy storage only continues to expand. That will definitely be on the agenda.
CapRE: And what else do you see on the horizon for our industry?
de Blasi: We do a lot of work for different kinds of entities so there’s more than one way to answer that question. On the owner side, they are continuing to buy up large parcels of land and secure them for the future. I think that’s really to support all of the data that they need for the businesses, whether it’s web-based, tech-based, or what not, and that will continue. Technology keeps advancing and the data that we need to store and process is growing more. I see that coming on the horizon and not stopping.
CapRE: What other perspectives do you have?
de Blasi: On the customer side, the third party side, I think that there is a lot of consolidation. Some of the older data center have had to upgrade with newer demands of bigger load and what not. That is definitely something we will keep seeing. And on the energy production side, because I deal a lot with that, you will continue to see a move toward trying to utilize more renewable energy to power them.
CapRE: Any other challenges out there you’re keeping your finger on?
de Blasi: The speed at which companies need to have these companies up and running just keeps getting more compressed. As tech improves and some folks out there like Skanska build them, they’re able to modularize their facilities to get them up and running, but [the compression] has been happening for awhile and it keeps continuing.
From a policy standpoint, people are watching what is going on in the energy space in Arizona. There is talk about changes to our renewable energy standards, and people who are looking to site their facilities here are looking at that because they want renewable energy and they want supportive policies.
CapRE: Please share with me your thoughts on what else is going on in Arizona.
de Blasi: We have lots of open land. A lot of states have had some problems and catastrophes like California, and people are moving to Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, to alleviate the chance of natural disaster. I think this pocket, even New Mexico, is an attractive area. The challenge there is infrastructure – you can’t build it fast enough. We also have very inexpensive power. We have nuclear, natural gas, coal, hydro, and that makes for a very reliable grid too. We stand out for that reason.
CapRE: Indeed. Thank you so much for your time. We’ll see you next year!