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FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

Following significant pushback from the regulated community, FERC and NERC Staff jointly announced in a new white paper that filings and other submissions to FERC describing violations of cybersecurity reliability standards would be entirely nonpublic. Under the revised approach, all cybersecurity noncompliance information will be considered CEII and not disclosed in response to FOIA requests.

This was a significant change from last year, when in a heavily criticized white paper, FERC and NERC Staff proposed to publicize the names of utilities found to have violated cybersecurity reliability standards, along with the financial penalty imposed and the reliability standards (but not requirements) that were violated. Under that approach the specific circumstances of the violations would have been nonpublic.

Read our recent LawFlash analyzing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) Order No. 2222, which directs wholesale electric market operators to facilitate the participation of distributed energy resource (DER) aggregators under one or more participation models. The new rule vastly expands the opportunities for DERs, such as grid-enabled water heaters, small solar installations, and electric vehicles, to aggregate and compete alongside traditional generators for a slice of wholesale market revenues. ISOs/RTOs will have 270 days from the date the rule is published in the Federal Register to submit their compliance filings and propose implementation dates for their regions.

Read the full LawFlash.

FERC has issued an order extending the blanket waivers of all requirements to hold meetings in person and/or to provide or obtain notarized documents in open-access transmission tariffs through January 29, 2021. The order continues the blanket waivers first issued on April 2, 2020, in response to requests from regulated entities, which were set to expire on September 1, 2020. FERC cites the coronavirus (COVID-19) national emergency proclamation issued by President Trump on March 13, 2020; the continued risk to health and safety currently presented by personal contact; and guidance from public health officials on social distancing as good cause for the waivers.

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.

Read the full LawFlash >>

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.

Read the full LawFlash >>

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.