Wrubell forges long-term relationships with First Nations partners
When Shaun Wrubell joined Calgary-based BluEarth Renewables Inc. in 2016 as the company’s first in-house counsel, he was given the challenge of establishing and building a legal function from the ground up. As vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for the renewable energy producer, he has played a pivotal role in multiple areas of the business, including the negotiation of key partnership agreements in Canada and the U.S. He also led and managed a multi-disciplinary team to update and modernize BluEarth’s operational policies, including privacy compliance and a code of business conduct. Wrubell takes the lead in BluEarth’s ongoing and often complex M&A efforts, coordinating cross-border teams and scouting locations.
Among his many projects, Wrubell most recently guided the company through a significant change of ownership when founding shareholder Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan sold its interest to independent infrastructure fund manager DIF Infrastructure V, making DIF the sole owner.
“It was a very exciting and complex transaction with assets all over North America and various stakeholders and regulatory bodies. It was exciting to play the in-house role in that process,” says Wrubell of the deal, which closed in November 2019. He anticipates that the new ownership will open considerable opportunities for BluEarth to continue growing and expanding its wind, solar and hydro portfolio, especially in the U.S. market. BluEarth recently opened a commercial U.S. office in Phoenix, Ariz. to support the growth plans.
Wrubell is no stranger to working with multiple stakeholders in complex transactions. He is adept at working with First Nations in strategic partnerships that require special care throughout the life of the project.
“Continuous engagement is just as important as the legal project agreement,” says Wrubell. “Having a good understanding of, and respect for, the legal framework governing the relationship with Indigenous peoples is important. However, when working with Indigenous peoples, it is also very important to take the time to learn about your partner, their culture and their business goals. In Canada, there are hundreds of First Nation communities and each one has its own unique culture.”
One major project handled by Wrubell involved the acquisition from Veresen Inc. of four operating renewable energy facilities across Canada in 2017, including a wind facility in Ontario and three run-of-river hydro facilities in B.C. This involved five First Nations as well as minority project partners, and it represented a key milestone in BluEarth’s long-term growth strategy, with the facilities having a weighted average contract life of 22 years.
“BluEarth believes that trust is the foundation for long-term successful partnerships, and trust is only developed over time, by working together with honest and transparent communications,” says Wrubell. “It is important to engage with the Indigenous communities early in the project and continue engagement throughout the life of the project.”
Wrubell was instrumental in the negotiation and completion of a partnership agreement with the shíshálh Nation with respect to the Narrows Inlet hydro project.
He also spearheaded the acquisition of two operating wind facilities in Minnesota, which marked BluEarth’s first wind investment in the U.S. The Danielson Wind Facility became a partnership between BluEarth and the local landowner partner, Danielson Wind Holdings, when BluEarth acquired an 80-per-cent interest in 2018.
Given the complex nature of many of BluEarth’s projects and the multiple stakeholders involved, Wrubell regularly enlists help from external counsel in Canada and the U.S. for matters such as corporate M&A work, litigation and project financing. When it comes to selecting external counsel partners, he favours firms that operate in all the jurisdictions where BluEarth is doing business.
“In Canada, we operate or have developments in B.C, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, so it helps when our counsel has a presence across the country,” says Wrubell, adding that he also favours firms with a national presence in the U.S.
“I like working with people who have transactional experience and experience with financing and project development,” he says. “We need a firm that has all the capabilities to help with the entire life-cycle, from acquisition of land to permitting, regulatory work, First Nations partnerships and all operational stages.”
Wrubell started his legal career in 2007 as corporate associate at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP in Calgary, where he gained experience in corporate M&A, financing and governance work, but he was always drawn to the business side of an in-house counsel role. Prior to joining BluEarth, Wrubell spent six years at Calgary-based Canadian Oil Sands Limited, where he was deeply involved in corporate governance, financing and helping to manage the company’s interest in crude oil. When Suncor acquired Canadian Oil Sands in 2016, Wrubell was instrumental in leading the $6.6-billion transaction. Following the acquisition, he chose to move to BluEarth where he takes pride in working, not just as a lawyer but as a member of the executive team, making major decisions in strategy, governance and risk management and leading the organization’s expansion strategy across North America.
“I like in-house counsel because you’re a part of the decision-making process and the strategy and risk management of a company,” says Wrubell. “I really enjoy the business side as we push forward with our growth strategy.” BluEarth’s growing portfolio of renewable energy facilities includes 405 megawatts in operation and under construction and more than 1,000 MW under development.
Name: Shaun Wrubell
Company: BluEarth Renewables Inc.
Title: vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary
Years in industry: 12
Career highlight: Working on BluEarth’s change of ownership from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to DIF Infrastructure
Career lowlight: Working for Canadian Oil Sands when oil prices plummeted
- Earned a JD with distinction and a BA in political science with great distinction from the University of Saskatchewan
- Called to the Bar of Alberta in 2008
- Has been actively involved in several Calgary United Way workplace campaigns
- Participated in 2019 Jasper Research seminar
- Co-authored a paper on corporate power purchase agreements
- Is a member of the Law Society of Alberta