The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) requested comments on a proposed rulemaking to revise its regulations under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (“PURPA”). The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NOPR”), among other things, would diminish benefits that have been afforded to Qualifying Facilities (“QFs”), including the availability and value of the “PURPA-put.” The proposed changes also could potentially block certain wind and solar projects that previously would have qualified as small power production facilities from receiving that designation. The NOPR presents uncertainty for renewable developers, as well as other non-utility generators. Adoption of the proposed changes may hinder the development of some renewable energy projects. Comments on the proposed rulemaking are due within 60 days of its publication in the Federal Register.
Continue Reading FERC Proposes Major Changes to PURPA Regulations Impacting Qualifying Facility Rates and Requirements; Throwing Roadblocks in the Path of Renewable Energy Development

On August 13, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a request by Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (MISO) to modify its Tariff and pro forma Generator Interconnection Agreement (GIA) to permit shared interconnection facilities among multiple projects in cases where all parties are amenable to such an arrangement. The Tariff modifications now allow electric generators located in MISO to share interconnection facilities through consent agreements. Previously, MISO did not permit the sharing of interconnection facilities between different projects due to the administrative and practical challenges with such arrangements. However, MISO changed its position after FERC issued Order 807, which created a blanket waiver of certain regulatory requirements, including the obligation to file an Open Access Transmission Tariff (OATT), for certain entities. MISO noted that Order 807 significantly reduced the administrative complexity of many shared facilities arrangements, and led to increased interest in new interconnection arrangements as a means to speed development and/or reduce development costs. Nevertheless, generators should still be careful to meet all remaining MISO Tariff requirements for such agreements.
Continue Reading FERC Approves MISO’s Tariff Change Permitting Generators to Voluntarily Share Interconnection Facilities

In a recent opinion, the Ninth Circuit held that the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) Renewable Market Adjusting Tariff (Re-MAT) program and alternative Qualifying Facility (QF) standard offer contract (Standard Contract) were preempted by federal law. The Re-MAT program and Standard Contract required California utilities to purchase energy from certain QFs with capacities up to three and twenty megawatts (MWs), respectively. The court found that the program and the contract violated the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978’s (PURPA) pricing requirements. The decision, Winding Creek Solar LLC v. Peterman, USCA Case Nos. 17-17531 and 17-17532 (9th Cir. 2019) demonstrates that PURPA continues to maintain a floor from which state regulatory programs must encourage the development of renewable energy from small producers. In 2018 and prior to Winding Creek, the CPUC instituted a rulemaking to consider adoption of a new Standard Contract but has not yet taken action. Winding Creek reemphasizes the importance of that proceeding for ensuring that California has a PURPA-compliant program in place for utilities to purchase QF-produced energy.
Continue Reading 9th Circuit Says CPUC’s Standard Contract and Re-MAT Program for Certain Renewable Generators are not PURPA Compliant

On July 18, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued Order No. 860.  The order requires entities with or seeking market-based rate authority (sellers) to submit certain data related to FERC’s market power analyses, including its indicative screens and asset appendices, into a “relational database” maintained by FERC.  The order also requires the submission of information associated with long-term firm sales.  When changes occur to data previously submitted, the relational database must be updated monthly by sellers.  The database will be used to, among other things, develop asset appendices and indicative screens for FERC filings that require a market power analysis.  Finally, Order No. 860 altered the deadline for “change in status” filings.  Beginning on January 1, 2021, sellers will need to comply with the order by making a baseline submission and using the “relational database” to make future market-based applications.
Continue Reading FERC Order No. 860 Mandates New Market-Based Rate Filing and Reporting Requirements for Sellers of Electric Energy

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Order No. 856-A on July 18, 2019 granted in part and denied in part a request for rehearing of Order No. 856. Order No. 856 eased restrictions on current or potential interlocking officers and directors, where the circumstances would not involve substantial opportunities for conflicts of interest or self-dealing. Order No. 856 and 856-A will be helpful to individuals employed at financial institutions or at public utilities who seek to or currently hold positions across both types of businesses.  As described in detail below, the orders’ clarifications limited the instances when applicants would be required to obtain Commission approval or file notice of changes, permitted certain temporary appoints, and also eased FERC’s prior position regarding late filings.
Continue Reading FERC Order No. 856-A Clarifies Regulations Regarding Interlocking Directorates of Public Utilities and Certain Other Entities

Recent developments in the energy sector indicate that blockchain technology is being embraced to address a range of issues including network security and improved integration of renewable generation and demand response resources. This emerging technology continues to have the potential to become a disrupter in the energy industry.
Continue Reading Blockchain Continues to Make Headway in the Energy Industry

On June 13, 2019, the Office of the United States Trade Representative ruled that bifacial solar modules are exempt from the Section 201 tariffs on solar cell and module imports. This exemption applies to articles imported on or after June 13, 2019, and creates an opportunity for cost savings over traditional monofacial solar modules. Developers and solar companies who have been importing, or are considering importing, solar modules should consider the potential for such savings in light of this exemption.
Continue Reading Bifacial Solar Modules Now Exempt from Section 201 Tariff

In a recent opinion, the D.C. Circuit suggested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) must attempt to obtain information necessary to evaluate the environmental effects of a proposed interstate pipeline project due to the project’s effect on natural gas production and consumption. In Birckhead v. FERC, USCA Case No. 18-1218 (D.C. Cir. 2019), the court criticized FERC for failing to obtain and consider information about upstream production and downstream consumption in its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of a proposed project to add compression to an existing pipeline, even though the applicant was unlikely to have information regarding the origin and destination of the gas to be transported. The court indicated that FERC has an obligation to at least request information about upstream and downstream activities from pipeline applicants, and suggested that, under the decision in Sierra Club v. FERC, 867 F.3d 1357 (D.C. Cir. 2017), FERC may be required to consider the environmental effects of those activities as indirect effects of FERC’s pipeline approval.
Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Says NEPA Requires FERC To Inquire Into Up and Downstream Effects of Pipeline Project

On April 2, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) determined that the one-year statutory limit on state review of interstate natural gas pipeline company applications for water quality certification was a bright-line deadline that could not be extended by private agreement.[1] FERC found that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (“NYDEC”) failure to act within one year of receipt of a water quality certification application submitted by National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation and Empire Pipeline, Inc. (together, “National Fuel”) constituted waiver of the State’s authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act[2] to make a final determination on the application. Section 401 limits such review to one year or less from the date of receipt of the application. The Commission rejected contentions by the NYDEC and Sierra Club that the NYDEC could extend the date by which it could act on a water quality certification application. The Commission’s Order will arguably restrict states’ ability to review water quality certification applications associated with interstate natural gas pipeline projects, may actually lead to uncertainty for entities proposing to construct such pipeline facilities, and will test the Commission’s interpretations of Section 401 and related case law.
Continue Reading FERC Holds the Line on One-Year Limit for State Review of Clean Water Act Certifications for Interstate Natural Gas Pipelines

Securing interconnection and transmission rights and completing related upgrades is often the longest lead-time item in an electric generator’s development timeline. At the same time, many potential new power plants are being developed and vying for access to the electric transmission grid. The policy of most grid operators is to address interconnection requests on a “first come first served” basis. As a result, developers/interconnection customers are incentivized to submit their interconnection requests as early in the development process as possible in order to save their projects’ place in line. Over the last two years, Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (“MISO”) experienced record-high interconnection requests, and yet nearly 80% of these submissions ultimately were withdrawn prior to commercial operation of the project. MISO attributed this trend to developers submitting multiple requests for the same proposed project to test (and quickly withdraw) multiple interconnection concepts, many of which the developers knew they were not going to support through the entire queue process.

In an effort to reduce the number of requests in its interconnection queue that will ultimately be withdrawn, MISO requested that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) approve revisions to MISO’s interconnection request procedures related to milestone payments and site control requirements, which revisions would place substantially higher hurdles to a potential new power plant joining MISO’s generator interconnection queue. In Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc., 166 F.E.R.C. ¶ 61,187 (2019), FERC rejected MISO’s request, but FERC’s ruling leaves open the possibility that it might approve a similar set of heightened requirements, so long as MISO makes modifications to its proposal to account for interconnection customers that might be disproportionately disadvantaged.
Continue Reading FERC Rejects MISO’s Proposed Restrictions on Joining the Development Queue