FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

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.

FERC recently dismissed the New England Ratepayers Association’s petition for declaratory order requesting FERC to exert jurisdiction over certain net-metering transactions. The decision leaves some key legal and jurisdictional questions about net metering unanswered. For now, FERC’s existing view that net-metering transactions are subject to state commissions’ retail sales jurisdiction, unless a customer sells more power back to the utility than it consumes in the applicable retail billing period (usually one month), remains intact.

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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.

Background

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.

Read our recent LawFlash discussing a June 30 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit regarding the recent use of tolling orders by FERC as a way to prevent rehearing requests from being denied by operation of law.

As discussed in the LawFlash, a near unanimous DC Circuit held that the Natural Gas Act does not permit tolling orders on rehearing applications regarding pipeline construction requests that serve only to buy FERC time to act upon the rehearing request. Accordingly, for cases brought within the DC Circuit, FERC must act on a rehearing request within 30 days of receipt. FERC need not, however, decide the merits within 30 days, as it may act by granting the request and then allowing additional time for further substantive briefings.

While the decision related to orders under the Natural Gas Act, the Federal Power Act has similar provisions regarding rehearing orders, and FERC will likely apply the decision to its rules related to rehearings on the electric side as well. In fact, FERC Chairman Chatterjee and Commissioner Glick responded with a joint statement asking Congress to provide a reasonable amount of time in which FERC can act on a rehearing of orders involving Natural Gas Act and the Federal Power Act matters and, during the pendency of a rehearing request, both prohibit the Commission from issuing a notice to proceed with construction and prohibit the construction applicant from commencing eminent domain proceedings.

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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.

Following the declaration of a global pandemic due to the widespread transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the issuance of shutdown and/or stay-at-home directives cascaded from commercial enterprises and state and local governments across the United States. During this period of extreme disruption to daily routine, the continuity and integrity of energy operations were necessary to ensure that the massive shift to home-based life could exist with minimal business disruption. Front- and back-office personnel engaged in trading energy commodities quickly transitioned to a work-from-home (WFH) posture, ensuring that their firms could preserve market access for production or output while also consummating the transactions needed to procure an adequate fuel source, managing price exposure to highly volatile commodity prices, or executing preexisting trading strategies.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued Order 569‑A on May 21, significantly revising the methodology used to analyze the base return on equity (ROE) of a public utility’s rates under the Federal Power Act. Because the order remains subject to further legal challenge and FERC had last revised its guidance on acceptable methodologies six months earlier in Order 569, uncertainty in acceptable methodologies may continue for some time.

FERC issued a proposal on May 21 to modify its policy regarding requests for waiver of public utility tariff provisions that are subject to FERC’s review and approval under the Federal Power Act and the Natural Gas Act.

In light of federal court opinions that have discussed FERC’s authority to change a filed rate, the Commission acknowledged that past orders approving tariff waivers have “drifted beyond the limits imposed by the filed rate doctrine” and the related rule against retroactive ratemaking.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a notice on May 20 that it will convene a Commissioner-led technical conference to consider the ongoing, serious impacts that the emergency conditions caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are having on the energy industry. The conference will be free, open to the public, and held remotely on Wednesday and Thursday, July 8-9, 2020. Attendees may preregister online here.

In mid-March the Commission began issuing guidance to address the immediate needs of FERC-jurisdictional entities, including various waivers and extensions necessary to assist energy companies with managing their regulatory responsibilities while dealing with the pandemic. The conference will be more forward-looking, and is expected to focus on the potential longer-term impacts from the pandemic on energy companies, energy markets, energy system reliability, and consumer protection.

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.