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FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

In November 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued Executive Order 92 increasing the state’s offshore wind generation goal from 3,500 MW by 2030 to 7,500 MW by 2035. To date, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has approved only one 1,100 MW offshore wind project, but is expected to conduct additional solicitations in 2020 and 2022 and approve approximately 2,400 MW of additional offshore wind generation.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed S. 2252 into law on January 17, 2020. The bill takes steps to advance electric vehicle (EV) goals proposed in the draft New Jersey Energy Master Plan (which was released in June 2019 but has not been posted in final form). By enacting this legislation, New Jersey joins several states, including Oregon and Colorado, that have taken action to encourage EV adoption in recent months.

The bill establishes statewide goals for EV growth in New Jersey and the development of statewide charging infrastructure, each of which will be supported by $300 million in state incentives over the next decade through programs to be established by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU). The bill also advances electrification of the state’s transportation fleet by requiring state agencies to escalate purchases of EVs.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on December 19, 2019, directed PJM Interconnection to extend its minimum offer price rule (MOPR) from new natural gas–fired electric generators to also cover any generator that receives or is entitled to receive certain types of state subsidies. The rule aims at preserving competitive capacity auctions by preventing resources that receive subsidies from submitting bids that would otherwise be uneconomical—and therefore likely to “capture” a PJM capacity award based on a below-market capacity rate—if not for state support. The order means that existing or planned resources that expected to clear capacity markets with rates made economical by state subsidies will have to identify alternate strategies to generate revenue; so too will states seeking to promote the development or prevent the retirement of preferred but noncompetitive resources.

In an effort to address anticipated electricity shortages and reliability challenges in California, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted on November 7 to authorize the procurement of 3,300 MW of energy by 2023. The CPUC also intends to seek extensions of certain compliance deadlines from the State Water Resources Control Board for almost 4,800 MW of gas generation units due to retire soon because they use ocean water for so-called “once-through cooling,” which can have a detrimental impact on marine life.

For more details on the CPUC’s actions, read the full LawFlash.

In October 2018, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Act 120 of 2018 (Act 120), which grants the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PaPUC) additional authority to support investor-owned water utilities’ efforts to protect Pennsylvania residents from lead entering their drinking water from customer-owned lead service lines. On October 3, the PaPUC, in its first exercise of this authority, approved Pennsylvania-American Water Company’s (PAWC’s) comprehensive plan for replacing customer-owned lead service lines in its service territory and established a working group to develop recommendations for the uniform implementation of Act 120 by all water companies in the commonwealth.

Interest in microgrids is on the rise in the United States as over half of states explore ways to modernize the grid and promote distributed energy resources (DER), including innovative renewable energy, storage, and demand response technologies. However, microgrids are not defined by law or regulation in most states and are more complex than other types of DER because they involve both the generation and distribution of energy. This raises several policy questions, including who should pay for microgrid development and use and whether microgrid operators that technically distribute energy to retail customers should be classified as public utilities and subject to regulations ordinarily imposed on such entities. California is currently exploring the potential benefits of microgrids and the role of state regulation.

FERC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) on September 19 announcing its intent to revise key rules governing the status and rights of Qualifying Facilities (QFs). These revisions include proposed changes to the rules for measuring QF size that could make it more difficult for certain projects to maintain QF status. The NOPR also proposes to provide greater flexibility to states in regulating the rates that QFs can receive from their interconnected utilities, as well as a number of other fundamental changes in the regulation of QFs.

The Pennsylvania (PA) Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision on August 20 in PPL Electric Utilities Corp. v. City of Lancaster, invalidating a municipality’s efforts to impose annual fees on utilities to occupy public rights-of-way and adopt inspection, supervision, and enforcement measures underpinning those fees. The PA Supreme Court affirmed that the Public Utility Code (Code) and the authority of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to apply and enforce the Code preempt the field on all matters that relate to the regulation of public utilities in the commonwealth. In doing so, the court upheld the longstanding principle that public utilities should be regulated by one statewide agency, namely the PUC.

The litigation culminating in the PA Supreme Court’s decision arose from the 2013 enactment of a local ordinance that implemented a comprehensive program for management of municipal rights-of-way. The key provision of the ordinance at issue authorized the City of Lancaster (City) to impose perpetual, annual occupancy fees on utilities for their presence in municipal rights-of-way. The ordinance also included provisions purporting to grant the City authority to inspect public utility facilities located in the right-of-way, order the relocation of such facilities, and enforce the Code and the ordinance itself.