FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

On June 14, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit vacated and remanded two challenged orders and directed FERC to explain or reconsider whether data made available after a challenged rate increase becomes effective (i.e., post–rate increase information) should be considered. The court found that, prior to the challenged orders, FERC only reviewed the data from the two years preceding the rate increase (i.e., pre–rate increase information) to determine whether rate increases were substantially in excess of the actual cost increases that the pipeline incurred. The court did not opine on whether FERC’s consideration of post–rate increase data was appropriate, but held that FERC failed to explain why it departed from its practice of considering only pre–rate increase data, and why it considered post–rate increase data in evaluating the rate increases at issue.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued three rules on June 19 that may give utilities new reasons to consider investing in certain plant modifications and reassessing the projected lifespans of their facilities. The rules also affect each state’s resource planning process and may contribute to changes in a state’s projected energy resource mixes. In response to the rules, utilities should be prepared for possible changes to state policies defining what constitutes “clean” energy and supporting reliability. The rules are intended to go into effect 30 days from their issuance. However, the implementation timeline for the rules is not certain because several states and organizations have stated they intend to challenge the rules in the federal courts.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) issued Order No. 486.1 on June 7 prohibiting DOE employees and contractors from participating in the foreign government “talent recruitment programs” of countries designated by the DOE as a “foreign country of risk,” which apparently include China and Russia. The order aims to balance the DOE’s broad scientific mission with national security interests by preventing the unauthorized transfer of scientific and technical information to certain foreign entities. DOE contractors and subcontractors within the utility and nuclear sectors should be prepared to implement controls to ensure that neither they nor their employees or subcontractors participate in these foreign-sponsored programs for identified countries.

Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. (Con Edison) and Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc. (O&R) issued a draft joint Request for Proposals (RFP) on May 31 to competitively procure scheduling and dispatch rights from new energy storage projects. Through this initial solicitation, Con Edison and O&R are targeting at least 300 megawatts (MW) and 10 MW, respectively, of new energy storage facilities to meet the in-service deadline of December 31, 2022, set by the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) in its December 2018 Order (Storage Order) establishing New York’s three gigawatt (GW) energy storage deployment goal.

Both utilities will accept bids only for new storage projects sized over five MW and connected to the transmission or distribution system that can directly participate in New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) markets and provide distribution benefits, if applicable. These front-of-meter systems must be able to discharge for at least four hours 100 to 350 times per year, have at least 85% roundtrip efficiency, and maintain 98% availability for dispatch each contract year.

The supply chain risks facing electric utilities have long been a concern for industry stakeholders and regulators alike. Reflecting those concerns, NERC submitted a report on May 28 to FERC recommending the expansion of requirements addressing supply chain cybersecurity risks for electric utilities, concluding that the scope of those requirements needed to expand to match the scope of the cybersecurity risk. The development of such revised standards will itself be a lengthy process and subject to additional FERC review.

A recent grid reliability report issued by staff members of the Offices of Electric Reliability and Enforcement within FERC evaluating the upcoming operating season underscored the changing generation resource mix in the United States and its implications for grid operations.

Currently at issue before the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is whether the filed rate doctrine prevents a court from assessing the reasonableness of a utility’s rates in the retail market. Under the filed rate doctrine, any rate that is approved by the governing regulatory agency is per se reasonable in judicial proceedings. FERC holds exclusive authority to determine whether wholesale rates filed by utilities are just and reasonable. Therefore, if FERC determines that a rate is just and reasonable, a court does not approve a departure from that wholesale rate.

The May 16 Order on Rehearing affirms FERC’s jurisdictional authority, and refuses calls for state opt-outs.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) issued Order No. 841 early last year, a final rule amending FERC’s regulations to facilitate participation of electric storage resources in the capacity, energy, and ancillary service markets operated by regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs). Several entities have since challenged key aspects of the final rule, urging the Commission on rehearing to reverse course or modify its approach on a number of issues. On May 16, the Commission issued Order No. 841-A, denying those requests for rehearing, thereby upholding the initial rulemaking while providing some additional clarification.