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FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

At FERC’s open meeting on April 19, 2012, FERC approved several orders addressing core aspects of Reliability Standards compliance, including cybersecurity Reliability Standards, compliance registration, and contingency planning issues. The newly approved cybsersecurity Reliability Standards significantly increase the scope of facilities subject to those requirements, the compliance registration decisions clarify the jurisdictional boundary between distribution and transmission facilities, and the planning orders represent a rejection of NERC’s approach to planning for firm load loss following a single contingency.

Cybersecurity: FERC Approves Version 4 CIP Reliability Standards

In Order No. 761, FERC approved Version 4 of the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Reliability Standards. Under Version 4, the risk-based assessment methodology previously used to identify the Critical Assets that must be protected under the CIP Reliability Standards is replaced with a list of “bright-line” criteria for identifying Critical Assets, contained in Attachment 1 to CIP-002-4. These criteria, FERC concluded, “will offer an increase in the overall protection for bulk electric system components that clearly require protection, including control centers.” In the order, FERC established a deadline of March 31, 2013, for NERC to submit the Version 5 CIP Reliability Standards, which will address the remaining directives from Order No. 706, in which FERC approved the original CIP Reliability Standards. The project site for the Version 5 CIP Reliability Standards is located online.

Compliance Registration: FERC Addresses Distribution/Transmission Distinction

In City of Holland, 139 FERC ¶ 61, 055 (2012), FERC rejected the City of Holland, Michigan, Board of Public Works’ appeal of NERC’s decision to register the City of Holland as a Transmission Owner and Transmission Operator. In reaching this decision, FERC rejected the City of Holland’s assertion that its facilities are distribution facilities, and therefore not part of the definition of “Bulk Electric System” and not subject to registration. FERC explained that the City of Holland’s facilities perform a transmission function, transporting power from the City of Holland’s generation facilities or importing power from other sources over high-voltage lines before stepping the voltage down for distribution to end users. In reaching this decision, FERC also thought it relevant that the facilities at issue do not serve load from a single transmission source, can experience bi-directional flows, and are above the voltage level generally considered distribution voltage.

Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur dissented on the grounds that this order depends on the fundamental, yet unsettled question of what facilities are considered “local distribution” under Section 215 of the Federal Power Act (FPA) and therefore outside of FERC’s jurisdiction. As explained in Commissioner LaFleur’s dissent, FERC has in the past identified the criteria for identifying local distribution facilities under Section 201(b) of the FPA, which uses language identical to Section 215, but FERC chose not to apply the Section 201(b) criteria in addressing the City of Holland’s appeal. Commissioner LaFleur asserted that if FERC believes that Congress intended to create different classes of local distribution facilities, FERC has the “burden of demonstrating that this is a reasonable interpretation of the statute.”

In U.S. Department of Energy, Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office, 139 FERC ¶ 61,054 (2012), FERC granted the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office’s appeal of its registration as a Load-Serving Entity (LSE). FERC had previously remanded this registration, and in ruling on NERC’s subsequent decision upholding the registration, concluded that NERC had failed to support registration as an LSE because NERC had not shown that the lessees and contractors working at the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office are separate end-use customers to whom the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office provides electricity. FERC explained that the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation, which sells to the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office under a state retail tariff, is the appropriate LSE.

Contingency Planning: FERC Demands Stringent Criteria for Planned Load Loss Following a Single Contingency

In Order No. 762, FERC rejected NERC’s proposed revisions to “Note b” in TPL-002-0b, which explains when a Transmission Planner or Planning Authority can plan for the interruption of firm load to meet system reliability requirements following a single contingency. Under NERC’s proposal, these entities could plan for load shedding following a single contingency so long as they documented such planning and considered alternative solutions in an open and transparent stakeholder process. FERC concluded that the proposal failed to satisfy FERC’s earlier directives on this issue and did not present an “equally effective and efficient alternative.” According to FERC, the proposed Note b process “is vague, potentially unenforceable and may lack safeguards to produce consistent results.” The parameters for the proposed stakeholder process, FERC concluded, do not provide a meaningful limitation on the ability to curtail firm load following a single contingency. Furthermore, the conditions under which such interruptions are appropriate remain undefined, threatening the basic system performance objectives of the NERC Transmission Planning Reliability Standards, risking system reliability.

In Transmission Planning Reliability Standards, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 139 FERC ¶ 61,059 (2012), FERC proposed to remand NERC’s proposal to combine the four current Transmission Planning Reliability Standards into a single new standard, TPL-001-2. According to FERC, footnote 12 to Table 1 in this proposed standard, which governs planning for the interruption of firm load following a single contingency, presents the same concerns as the Note b issues that led FERC to reject a similar proposal in Order No. 762 (described above). This footnote, which only requires a documented plan developed through an open and transparent stakeholder process that considers alternatives, does not define the parameters governing the decision to plan for the loss of firm load following a single contingency. While FERC noted several improvements in the standard, because of concerns with footnote 12, FERC proposed to find that TPL-001-2 does not meet the statutory criteria for approval. Comments will be due 60 days after the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is published in the Federal Register. In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, FERC requested comments on several transmission planning issues in addition to the core concern regarding planned load curtailments.