At its December open meeting, FERC proposed to establish rules for incentive-based rate treatments for voluntary cybersecurity investments by a public utility. If approved, the regulations would provide incentives for utilities to invest in cybersecurity improvements above and beyond existing mandatory requirements, provided the investments are related to the jurisdictional transmission or sale of electric energy. Traditionally FERC has worked to enhance the cybersecurity of the bulk-power system by directing the development and expansion of mandatory NERC Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) reliability standards. The proposed rules here would be quietly revolutionary by offering the “carrot” of financial incentives for cybersecurity enhancements, rather than relying exclusively on the “stick” of monetary sanctions that result from violations of mandatory requirements.
FERC has issued a final rule, Order No. 874, expanding the eligibility criteria for Qualifying Facilities (QFs) as defined under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) to enable certain fuel cell–based electric generation to receive QF status. The final rule amends the definition of useful thermal energy output of a topping-cycle cogenerator in its regulations implementing PURPA by adding a new paragraph to specifically include thermal energy that is used by a fuel cell system with an integrated steam hydrocarbon reformation process for production of fuel for electricity generation. This new paragraph, along with the rest of Order No. 874, removes ambiguity as to whether such fuel cell technology may be included in the eligibility criteria for a cogeneration facility to be a QF.
Order No. 874 addressed a petition for rulemaking seeking revisions to the eligibility criteria in light of the development in recent years of fuel cell systems with integrated hydrocarbon reformation equipment. The Commission stated the amendment recognizes the technical evolution of cogeneration as well as the Commission’s discretion to revise rules as necessary to encourage cogeneration. The final rule provides opportunities for the expansion of fuel cell technology by leveraging the regulatory exemptions and rights that accompany QF status.
The secretary of the US Department of Energy (DOE) issued an order on December 17 prohibiting electric utilities from installing equipment or components provided by Chinese companies in electric facilities serving designated “Critical Defense Facilities.” Relying on authority from Executive Order 13920 on Securing the United States Bulk-Power System, the order identified threats to the electric supply chain from China and concluded that prohibiting Chinese equipment in these sensitive facilities is necessary to respond to the Chinese government’s plans to undermine the bulk-power system.
The US Department of Energy (DOE or Department) finalized a rulemaking proceeding last week that revises its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing procedures pertaining to certain authorizations under the Natural Gas Act (NGA). This update limits DOE’s review of environmental impacts associated with natural gas exports to certain countries; DOE’s review will only consider the environmental effects of marine transportation, which DOE has also determined as not creating a significant environmental impact.
Regulations that implement NEPA require that each agency develop its own NEPA implementing procedures when applying NEPA to decisionmaking processes. Under previous DOE regulations, the Department had to conduct an environmental review pursuant to NEPA before granting an application to export natural gas to a country with which the United States does not have a free trade agreement requiring national treatment for natural gas exports (non-FTA countries). But NEPA regulations also permit agencies to identify categories of actions that normally do not have significant effects or that the agency has no authority to prevent, and to then categorically exclude them from review.
FERC has issued a final rule, Order No. 872, revising the Commission’s regulations governing qualifying small power producers and co-generators (collectively, qualifying facilities or QFs) under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). The Commission stated that the rule addresses significant changes that have occurred in the US energy markets and the Commission’s desire to modernize its PURPA regulations to protect consumers and preserve competition while meeting the Commission’s statutory obligations. The revisions will have significant implications for all utilities required to purchase the output of QFs, as well as generators that rely on PURPA rates and obligations. The final rule takes effect 120 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On July 10, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was well within its rights to prevent states from prohibiting energy storage resources from participating in wholesale (i.e., sales for resale) energy markets. The court’s order is the latest judicial affirmation of FERC’s authority to regulate activities on wide portions of the electric grid, including facilities reserved to state regulators, if those activities affect wholesale rates.
The case arose following challenges to FERC’s Order No. 841 (and its order on rehearing), a 2018 rulemaking requiring grid operators (i.e., regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs)) to implement rules to facilitate the participation of electric storage resources in wholesale capacity, energy, and ancillary service markets.
At its June 18 open meeting, FERC issued a notice of inquiry seeking public input on cybersecurity-related enhancements to the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) reliability standards. In light of the constantly evolving nature of cybersecurity threats to the bulk power system, FERC is interested in determining whether the current CIP standards adequately address specific cyberrisk areas related to data security and cybersecurity incident detection, containment, and mitigation. In addition, FERC is seeking comment on the potential risk of a coordinated cyberattack on geographically distributed targets.
The IRS proposed a draft rule on May 28 covering the qualification for carbon capture and sequestration tax credits under Section 45Q of the Internal Revenue Code. The proposed regulations could provide financial benefits to energy projects that will enhance the spread of that technology and the reduced carbon release that it promises.
The US Department of the Treasury issued a letter on May 7 stating that it plans to modify the continuity safe harbor for both the production tax credit (PTC) and the energy investment tax credit (ITC). Under the current law, taxpayers seeking to claim a PTC for electricity produced from qualifying facilities or an ITC for qualifying energy property must generally begin construction on the qualifying facility or property by specified dates.
To be considered to have begun construction, the taxpayer must start physical work of a significant nature, or must satisfy the safe harbor requirements by incurring 5% or more of the total cost of the facility or property. The taxpayer must then demonstrate continuous efforts to complete construction, and must place the facility or property in service within four years to meet the requirements for a continuity safe harbor.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on May 1 declaring that the use of bulk-power system equipment supplied by companies controlled by certain foreign nations poses an extraordinary threat to the US power grid. The order observes that the bulk-power system is a valuable target for malicious actors, and any attack on that system could pose serious risks to the economy, public health and safety, and national security.
In light of those risks, the executive order declares a national emergency with respect to the power grid and moves to ban the unrestricted import or use of bulk-power system electric equipment from foreign adversaries. Although the order calls for coordination among multiple executive branch heads, including the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Homeland Security, it primarily tasks the Secretary of Energy with fulfilling the President’s directives.