FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) filed a petition on September 26 requesting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) for a suite of Reliability Standards that focus on vulnerabilities in vendor products and services and would regulate the utility procurement process.

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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 September 12, 2017, FERC and NERC released a joint statement and guidance encouraging ongoing interutility cooperation among all utilities in response to Hurricane Irma, which ravaged areas in Florida and Georgia, neighboring states, Puerto Rico, and US territories in the Caribbean. The statement emphasized that the utility response to Hurricane Irma will likely be among the largest industry restoration efforts in US history. In it, FERC and NERC encourage utilities to lend personnel skilled in vegetation management to those utilities in need as a result of the hurricane.

On June 8, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released its report on the loss of 1,200 MW of solar generation in southern California during a system disturbance that unexpectedly caused inverters at solar generation facilities to trip or momentarily cease to operate. The report provides solar plant owners and engineers with recommendations to prevent future occurrences. According to NERC, inverter disconnect events pose an increasing reliability risk given the expansion of solar generation.

Growing solar penetration has made the response of solar generators to system disturbances more critical. If NERC and utility-scale solar generators adopt the report’s recommendations, the likelihood of both recurrences and government-imposed regulations will be reduced. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) recent orders requiring renewable generation to promote frequency response (Docket No. RM16-6), reactive power (Order No. 827), and ride-through capability (Order No. 828) indicate a willingness to impose regulatory requirements on renewable generation where FERC sees it as necessary to preserve system reliability. Separate and apart from NERC action and any voluntary industry response, the report may lead FERC to consider such action.

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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.  

Earlier this month, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) submitted proposed changes to Reliability Standard CIP-003 to modify the cybersecurity protections required for low-impact BES Cyber Systems. In response to FERC’s directives in Order No. 882, the new CIP-003-7 Standard (i) clarifies electronic access control requirements, (ii) adds requirements related to the protection of transient electronic devices, and (iii) requires utilities to have documented cybersecurity policies related to declaring and responding to CIP Exceptional Circumstances for low-impact BES Cyber Systems. The key changes are as follows:

Electronic Access Control Requirements

Utilities will be required to implement electronic access controls to permit only necessary inbound and outbound access to low-impact BES Cyber Systems for certain communications, whether direct or indirect, using routable protocols. This resolves the dispute regarding the existence of Low-Impact External Routable Connectivity (LERC) from an asset with a low-impact BES Cyber System, and the need to implement a Low-Impact BES Cyber System Electronic Access Point (LEAP) for the control of communications into the asset. Under the proposed standard, the LERC and LEAP concepts are discarded, and instead utilities are required to implement certain electronic access controls for all routable connections into and out of assets with low-impact BES Cyber Systems, regardless of whether those connections are direct or indirect.

Protection of Transient Electronic Devices

Under the proposed standard, utilities are also required to implement plans to protect transient electronic devices (e.g., laptops) with the goal of mitigating the risk of malicious code being introduced to low-impact BES Cyber Systems by, for example, a relay technician testing protection systems in a substation. The requirements differentiate between transient cyber assets managed by a utility and those managed by third parties such as vendors and contractors.

CIP Exceptional Circumstances Policy

NERC is also proposing changes that would require utilities to have policies for declaring and responding to CIP Exceptional Circumstances related to low-impact BES Cyber Systems. A CIP Exceptional Circumstance includes, among other situations, a risk of injury or death; natural disasters; civil unrest; imminent or existing hardware, software, or equipment failures; and cybersecurity incidents requiring emergency assistance. During a CIP Exception Circumstance, certain CIP requirements can be waived.

These revisions are the result of a lengthy stakeholder development process, and ultimately received strong support from the industry in stakeholder voting. The revisions also close the gaps in the CIP-003 Reliability Standard identified by FERC. As a result, the revised standard is likely to be approved by FERC. However, to the extent utilities have concerns over the substance or clarity of the proposed language, the upcoming notice and comment process at FERC will provide the last good opportunity to receive binding guidance from the Commission or challenge the language in the new standard.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recently submitted two proposed Reliability Standards to improve the real-time data exchange capabilities of Reliability Coordinators, Transmission Operators, and Balancing Authorities. The modified Reliability Standards (IRO-002-5 and TOP-001-4) add new obligations requiring Reliability Coordinators, Transmission Operators, and Balancing Authorities to have real-time data exchange capabilities with redundant and diversely routed data exchange infrastructure within their primary control centers. These entities would also be required to test their redundant functionality at least every 90 days. 

At its last open meeting on Jan. 19, 2017, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a policy statement that serves to reaffirm FERC’s efforts to encourage the development of electric storage resources. Of all the publications from FERC so far in calendar year 2017, this policy statement is one of the most important for entities in the electric power sector.

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Energy partner Ken Kulak recently participated in an Energy Policy Now podcast produced by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. During the podcast, Ken discussed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) on electric storage, highlighting several issues raised in the NOPR regarding the development of “participation models” for electric storage and distributed energy resources in organized electricity markets. Comments to the FERC NOPR are due by February 13, 2017.

The White House’s newly released National Electric Grid Security and Resilience Action Plan contains dozens of directives to various federal agencies for enhancing the electric grid’s resilience in the face of cyber threats, physical attacks, and natural disasters. Many of the directives build on different programs that federal agencies already run, but for the first time, this action plan synthesizes those disparate initiatives and focuses them on three goals: protecting the grid’s vulnerabilities, improving responses to contingencies, and building a more resilient system.

Notably, the action plan realizes that many of these directives can only be achieved with public utilities’ participation and that cost recovery of investments for grid resiliency is essential if the government expects significant private investment to address the existing system vulnerabilities.

Read the full LawFlash: White House Releases Checklist to Improve Grid Resiliency.