FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

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.”

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.

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 July 7, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its opinion in NRG Power v. FERC, vacating in part and remanding a May 2013 order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that had accepted PJM Interconnection, L.L.C.’s (PJM’s) revisions to the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) in the PJM electricity capacity market subject to PJM’s acceptance of certain modifications.

The court held that in directing the modifications to the PJM proposal, FERC created “a new rate scheme that was significantly different from [both PJM’s proposed and existing rate designs],” thereby exceeding FERC’s authority under Section 205 of the Federal Power Act (FPA). The court also held that PJM’s consent to FERC’s modifications did not cure FERC’s regulatory overreach because utility customers did not receive an opportunity for notice and comment on the modified rate.

Following this most recent decision, FERC will need to exercise caution in proposing modifications to a utility’s filing under Section 205.

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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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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.

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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.  

On February 17, 2017, California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) proposed legislation (SB 584) that would require California to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045. The bill also would require California to reach an interim goal of 50% renewable by the end of 2025, accelerating the 50%-by-2030 mandate currently in place. If approved, SB 584 would match Hawaii’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which is currently the most aggressive RPS in the United States.

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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.