FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

Electric power generation and sale customarily fall within the scope of FERC jurisdiction under the Federal Power Act, as amended, as do generator investment and ownership. Qualifying small power production facilities (Small Power QFs) of no larger than 20 MW (net AC) are usually exempt from FERC regulation of mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, power sale rates, and related regulation under the Public Utility Holding Company Act. Small Power QFs are also normally exempt from state utility commission regulation of corporate, financial, and power sales rate matters. These Small Power QF regulatory exemptions are widely viewed as helpful and appropriate by industry stakeholders ranging from generation investors to traditional franchised utilities, and residential and commercial generation users.

A recent advisory published by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Division of Enforcement and comments of the division director have highlighted the CFTC’s attention toward investigating potential violations of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) that involve foreign corrupt practices. On March 6, CFTC Director of Enforcement James M. McDonald addressed this very issue in remarks before the ABA National Institute on White Collar Crime. At the same time, the division issued an Enforcement Advisory providing guidance on how the CFTC will treat instances of self-reporting and cooperation concerning CEA violations that also involve foreign corrupt practices.

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In a decision with significant implication for international organizations as well as project opponents and counterparties, the US Supreme Court ruled on February 27 that, rather than an international organization’s immunities being at the zenith of those ever held by any foreign government, an international organization’s immunities can be no greater than those held by foreign governments, under US law, when those immunities are asserted.

FERC adopted a new rulemaking on February 21 that will substantially simplify requirements applicable to persons holding “interlocking” director and/or officer positions involving more than one public utility, or a public utility and an electric equipment supplier.[1]

Under the Federal Power Act, a person may not hold a director or officer position with one public utility and simultaneously hold another “interlocking” director or officer position with (1) any other public utility; or (2) certain suppliers of electrical equipment, without first receiving FERC authorization.[2] Pre-incumbency applications to FERC are required for interlocks, except in cases in which only certain positions with affiliated public utilities are held, and in those cases pre-appointment affidavit filings and disclosures must be publicly submitted to FERC as “informational reports.”[3] In general, even affiliated utility appointments must also be annually reported to FERC; FERC’s interlock requirements include both initial application (or informational reports) and annual disclosure filings.[4] If an incumbent position-holder is to be appointed to a new entity within a group of affiliated public utilities, then new affidavit filings and “informational reports” will typically be required.

The August 2018 enactment of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA) came after more than two years of debate over the appropriate scope of jurisdiction for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Much has already been written about FIRRMA and its potentially ambitious reach, as well as about the interest by certain parties, including members of Congress, to keep CFIUS away from some transactions. The result was a law that amended a number of provisions defining CFIUS jurisdiction, both expanding and narrowing key parts of the Committee’s reach. The pilot program is focused on certain specific types of transactions, without regard to the country of the acquiring entity, that CFIUS can review under FIRRMA, including transactions involving “Nuclear Electric Power Generation;” “Petrochemical Manufacturing;” “Power, Distribution and Specialty Transformer Manufacturing;” “Storage Battery Manufacturing;” and “Turbine and Turbine Generator Set Units Manufacturing.”

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An amendment to FERC’s M&A statute, Section 203 of the Federal Power Act, was signed into law on September 28. Public Law 115-247 (PL 115-347 or the amendment) makes a minor but helpful change to one provision of FPA Section 203 by immunizing one particular class of transactions from pre-consummation FERC M&A application and approval requirements.

Section 203’s sweep is broad; essentially any direct or indirect “disposition” of voting control over any FERC-jurisdictional “public utility” (almost every US generating company, wholesale power marketer, transmission provider, and traditional franchised utility) requires pre-consummation Section 203 authorization. Only selected types of transactions are exempt, usually those involving smaller “qualifying facility” generators and purely retail businesses and facilities. Some classes of “holding companies” of electric power businesses and assets are also subject to Section 203’s requirements. Numerous technically defined classes of transactions, such as many internal reorganizations, are blanket-authorized under FERC regulations and require no Section 203 applications or orders.

Regional transmission operator PJM Interconnection, L.L.C. imposed a new requirement that generating entities experiencing direct or indirect changes in ownership or control notify PJM of such changes immediately. The new requirement is effective as of June 1 and, while it may add to the paperwork of generators in the region, it is not likely to be significantly burdensome so long as the documentation requirements are carefully tracked. Whether and how these submissions will affect PJM’s regular involvement in Federal Power Act Section 203 proceedings at FERC remains to be seen. 

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Like similar laws in many other states, Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act (the AEPS Act) requires electric distribution companies (EDCs) and competitive retail electric generation suppliers (EGSs) to purchase an increasing percentage of energy from renewable energy sources. The AEPS Act also includes a “set-aside” that requires some of that renewable energy—as measured in alternative energy credits (AECs)—to be derived from solar photovoltaic (solar PV) facilities.

Until recently, Pennsylvania EDCs and EGSs could meet their solar PV requirements using solar AECs generated from solar PV facilities located anywhere within PJM, the regional transmission organization that includes Pennsylvania and all or part of 13 other states (including Washington, DC). Now, under Act 40 of 2017, signed into law on October 30 by Governor Tom Wolf, the rules have changed.

FERC’s October 5 Order on Rehearing in Equitrans, L.P. provides a good reminder to market participants that the commitments made in a precedent agreement may subsequently be rejected by FERC when the negotiated rate transportation agreement is filed for Commission approval. Equitrans, L.P. (Equitrans) filed a non-conforming negotiated rate transportation agreement that it entered into with EQT Energy, LLC (EQT Energy) for new service on Equitrans’ Ohio Valley Connector Project. The agreement included the following three non-conforming provisions for service:

  1. A provision that gave EQT Energy the right to participate in any future open season for an expansion of the system with the benefits and designation of a Foundation Shipper (the Foundation Shipper provision);
  2. A provision that gave EQT Energy most-favored nation status, which would allow EQT Energy to match the decreased negotiated rate if Equitrans contracts for a lower negotiated rate with another shipper; and
  3. A provision that imposed stricter creditworthiness requirements for EQT Energy.

In a declaratory order issued on October 4, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) clarified that prior approval under Section 203 of the Federal Power Act is not required for certain types of tax equity investments, substantially simplifying and expediting regulatory requirements.

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