FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

Functioning critical infrastructure is crucial during the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency for public health and safety reasons. And as noted in the Coronavirus Guidelines for America issued on March 16, US President Donald Trump has recommended that workers in critical infrastructure industries have a “special responsibility” to maintain normal work schedules. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on March 19 issued guidance on defining the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce. That guidance explicitly discusses workers in the nuclear and electric industries.

A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) titled, “Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act,” published today by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), is likely to have far-reaching effects for the energy and public infrastructure sectors, and could facilitate more efficient implementation of energy production/generation projects for all major energy sources (i.e., renewable, fossil, nuclear, and hydroelectric sources) as well as transportation projects.

The proposed rule has four major elements: (1) to modernize, simplify, and accelerate the NEPA process; (2) clarify terms, application, and scope of NEPA review; (3) enhance coordination with states, tribes, and localities; and (4) reduce unnecessary burdens and delays.

It will be important for industry entities that depend on federal agency action when advancing projects and securing permits to actively participate in the proposed rulemaking, and to provide meaningful comments that will help the CEQ build a sufficient agency record to defend against any later litigation challenges to new regulations.

Read the full LawFlash.

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.

FERC issued guidance on October 17, 2019, that may significantly aid hydroelectric developers in planning and siting potential projects. FERC issued a list, jointly developed with the secretary of the US Army, secretary of the US Department of the Interior, and secretary of the US Department of Agriculture (collectively, the Secretaries), of 230 existing nonpowered federal dams that FERC and the Secretaries agree have the greatest potential for nonfederal hydropower development. FERC also issued guidance to assist applicants for licenses or preliminary permits for closed-loop pumped storage projects at abandoned mine sites. These actions fulfill FERC’s requirements under the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWAI) and are intended to encourage development of renewable energy resources by developing hydroelectric power at sites where the addition of hydroelectric capabilities would not add significant additional environmental impacts.

FERC has provided specific, detailed guidance for the first time on the use of voting trusts to eliminate ownership affiliation.

Direct and indirect owners of 10% or greater voting interests in FERC-regulated “public utilities” are typically treated by FERC as “affiliates” and as “holding companies” of their public utilities. These owners become subject to FERC regulation with respect to some mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, and changes in control, and with respect to their and their affiliates’ FERC-conferred right to sell electricity at wholesale.

FERC recently issued a pair of orders approving the electric storage market participation proposals of PJM Interconnection, Inc. (PJM) and Southwest Power Pool, Inc. (SPP). PJM and SPP submitted those proposals to comply with the directives of Order No. 841, FERC’s final rule addressing the participation of electric storage resources in the capacity, energy, and ancillary service markets operated by independent system operators and regional transmission organizations. The October 17 orders represent the agency’s first two approvals of Order No. 841 compliance filings, which have been under review since late last year.

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.

For the first time, FERC has found that significant investments in an existing licensed hydroelectric facility by a licensee will be considered when establishing the license term in a relicensing proceeding, potentially aiding the licensee in obtaining a longer license term.

Section 15(e) of the Federal Power Act (FPA) provides that any license issued shall be for a term that FERC determines to be in the public interest, but no less than 30 years or more than 50 years. Under its 2017 Policy Statement on Establishing License Terms for Hydroelectric Projects, FERC established a 40-year default license term policy for original and new licenses. The Policy Statement included exceptions to the 40-year license term under certain circumstances, including establishing a longer license term upon a showing by the license applicant that substantial voluntary measures were either previously implemented during the prior license term, or substantial new measures are expected to be implemented under the new license.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) on July 18 issued a rule, initially proposed in July 2016,[1] restructuring the way it collects certain data for market-based rate (MBR) purposes and significantly expanding the information it collects from MBR holders. Under the Final Rule, FERC will now collect MBR application and certain compliance information in a new database with multiple data tables relating to one another via entity-specific, unique identification numbering (FERC’s new “relational database”), an intricate and entirely new electronic reporting system that will become compulsory in early 2021.[2] Order 860 also adopts changes to the ownership and the gas and electricity “affiliate” information required in an MBR Seller’s compulsory disclosures.

The Final Rule will take effect on October 1, 2020, and baseline submissions will be due by February 1, 2021.[3] As of February 1, 2021, prior to filing an application for initial MBR authority, a new Seller will be required to make a submission into the relational database, which will itself create the required asset appendices and indicative screens that filers had previously prepared independently. FERC affirmed that after January 31, 2021, a Seller will no longer report its affiliated generating and related electric and gas assets in the current .XLS format (an Appendix B Excel spreadsheet).[4] Instead, the information will now be submitted in XML format and the data to be collected in the relational database, which the Final Rule claims will generate an asset appendix.[5]