FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) filed a joint brief on May 29 in the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, stating that Illinois’ zero emission credit (ZEC) program for eligible nuclear plants in Illinois is not preempted by the Federal Power Act (FPA). Because the panel in a substantially similar case pending in the Second Circuit has indicated that it would review the government’s filing in the Seventh Circuit case, the views of FERC and DOJ could be critical as this issue plays out in the federal court system.

The Illinois legislature passed a law in 2016 requiring utilities to purchase ZECs at administratively set prices from nuclear plants in the state. Generators that compete with the ZEC-receiving nuclear plants challenged the law, arguing that the ZEC program is preempted by the FPA. The district court upheld the program, and the generators appealed the decision to the Seventh Circuit. FERC did not take a position in the trial court but has now done so after the Seventh Circuit invited the US government to file a brief.

On the heels of the news reports describing cyberattacks on the energy sector that have continued to accumulate over the last few years, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a technical alert on March 15 describing ongoing attacks on critical infrastructure by hackers associated with the Russian government. The alert described the cyberattacks as part of a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” that targeted the energy sector networks, as well as computer systems used by entities in the nuclear, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors. The alert is the latest in a string of reported cyberattacks on industrial control systems (ICS) in recent years, and can only serve to ratchet up the regulatory pressure on these industries to demonstrate their resilience in the face of these well-organized attacks.

In an admonishing response letter issued December 8, US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry granted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) request for a 30-day extension to consider final action on its Proposed Grid Reliability and Resiliency Pricing Rules. The proposed rules, if adopted, could provide economic support to coal and nuclear generation in organized markets.

FERC had emphasized in its request that extra time is needed to provide adequate opportunity for recently sworn-in Chairman Kevin J. McIntyre and Commissioner Richard Glick to consider the voluminous record in the proceeding that includes more than 1,500 comments in response to FERC’s solicitation for public comment on the proposed rules. Mr. Perry granted FERC’s request while noting in his letter that, as explained in his original directive, failure to act expeditiously within a 60-day timeframe would be unjust, unreasonable, and contrary to the public interest. Given the circumstances highlighted by FERC, he agreed to allow FERC to take final action by Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Despite granting the request, Mr. Perry strongly urged FERC to act before the deadline to ensure the “resilience and security of the electric grid.”

On September 29, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry invoked rarely used statutory authority to direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to initiative a rulemaking to enable generation assets in RTOs and ISOs to receive payments for reliability and resiliency benefits that DOE views as uncompensated under current market rules.

If the proposed rules are adopted, they could provide significant economic support to coal and nuclear generation in organized markets.

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On May 23, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a notice inviting comments on the interplay between state policy goals and organized wholesale electricity markets. The referenced state policy goals involve state support for zero-carbon-emitting power plants, including nuclear power plants, generally in the form of tax credits.

FERC is asking for comments to further explore information presented on this topic at a technical conference convened by FERC commissioners and staff on May 1 and 2, 2017. FERC seeks comments on the five potential paths for reconciling the two policies already identified by the FERC staff. It also seeks broader comments on any “conceptual level” changes that would need to be implemented, and whether the necessary changes could be implemented and in what time frame. Finally, the notice seeks input on the larger principles that should drive reconciliation of the two separate policy goals, including any necessary procedural requirements.

Continue reading the LawFlash.

Putting aside the climate change politics swirling around US President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” what does the order mean for the nation’s electric generation portfolio? Can the gradual decline in the role of coal-fired generation be reversed?

The executive order, released on March 28, 2017, calls for increased domestic energy production from coal, natural gas, nuclear material, and other domestic sources, explicitly balancing the need to “promote clean and safe development” of energy resources with “avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.” In addition to revoking various Obama-era executive orders on climate change and carbon emissions and rescinding various reports issued by federal agencies on these topics, the executive order also directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the Clean Power Plan in the context of the domestic production policy adopted in the executive order and to, “as soon as practicable, suspend, revise, or rescind” the rule.  

Last November, the Japanese Diet approved a bill to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC). On January 15, 2015, the Japanese representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) signed and delivered to IAEA’s director general Japan’s instrument of acceptance of the CSC.[1] The CSC is now expected to enter into force on April 15, 2015.[2] Once the CSC enters into force, it will make a significant additional international fund available to compensate third parties for damages in the event of a nuclear accident and will also introduce restrictions on jurisdiction over incidents that involve nuclear installations within the territories of CSC parties. Thus, the CSC will provide new protections to U.S. vendors that do business overseas, although the breadth of these protections will largely depend on how many countries adopt the CSC.