On March 27, 2020, FERC denied NorthWestern Corporation’s (“NorthWestern” or the Company) petition for a declaratory order regarding Qualifying Facility (“QF”) avoided cost pricing during times of excess generation. In its petition, NorthWestern asked the Commission to determine that (1) when excess generation occurs, QF pricing should be set to zero, and (2) nothing in the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (“PURPA”), including the rule against non-discrimination in avoided cost pricing, permits establishing a rate in excess of the utility’s avoided cost. In exercising its discretion to deny the petition, FERC did not reject NorthWestern’s request on the merits, but rather, stated that whether avoided energy costs can be zero depends on the facts of the case, and that NorthWestern had failed to provide sufficient information to support its request.

Continue Reading FERC Declines Opportunity to Weigh in on Zero Avoided Cost Pricing under PURPA

On March 25, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (“Eighth Circuit”) upheld a Minnesota law granting a right of first refusal (“ROFR”) to incumbent electric transmission owners to construct, own, and maintain electric transmission lines connecting to their existing facilities. In its complaint brought before the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota (“District Court”), LSP Transmission Holdings, LLC (“LSP”) argued that Minnesota’s ROFR statute discriminates against out-of-state transmission developers and places an undue burden on interstate commerce in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause. The Eight Circuit affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of LSP’s complaint finding, de novo, that Minnesota’s ROFR provision does not violate the dormant Commerce Clause.
Continue Reading Eighth Circuit Upholds Minnesota’s Right of First Refusal Law

On March 17, 2020, FERC accepted revisions to the PJM Interconnection LLC (“PJM”) Open Access Transmission Tariff (“Tariff”) to establish enhanced procedures for compliance with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (“NERC”) reliability standard CIP-024-2.  A majority of FERC Commissioners found that the Tariff revisions, captured in a new proposed Tariff Attachment M-4, appropriately balanced transparency obligations in transmission planning with the need to maintain strict confidentiality regarding the names, locations, and vulnerabilities of CIP-014-2 facilities.  In a separate opinion, Commissioner Glick dissented, in part, arguing that the proposal inappropriately categorized Attachment M-4 projects as a subset of “Supplemental Projects” under the Tariff and PJM Operating Agreement. Commissioner Glick argued that the proposal improperly subjected such projects to non-regional cost allocation, contrary to cost-causation and other transmission planning principles expressed in Commission Order Nos. 890 and 1000.

Continue Reading FERC Accepts Separate Planning Process for CIP-014 Mitigation Projects in PJM

On February 21, 2020, FERC issued an order accepting ISO New England Inc.’s (“ISO-NE”) November 5, 2019 informational filing about the parameters of its fourteenth Forward Capacity Auction (“FCA 14”) for the 2023-24 Capacity Commitment Period (“Informational Filing”).  In so doing, FERC rejected arguments from ISO-NE’s External Market Monitor and others that ISO-NE over-mitigated the bids of various energy storage resources by relying on improper assumptions and historical data. FERC’s order sparked a dissent from Commissioner Richard Glick.

Continue Reading FERC Accepts ISO-NE’s Informational Filing Regarding FCA 14

On February 20, 2020, FERC issued a notice of inquiry (“NOI”) to learn more about the potential benefits and risks of virtualization and cloud computing services in the bulk electric system operations. The NOI also seeks information about the barriers that exist in FERC-approved Critical Infrastructure Protection (“CIP”) Reliability Standards that impede the voluntary adoption of virtualization or cloud computing services.

Continue Reading FERC Opens Inquiry into Virtualization and Cloud Computing Services

On February 10, 2020, FERC filed its Rehearing En Banc Brief (“Brief”) regarding opposition to FERC’s authorization of the construction of Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC’s (“Transco”) proposed Atlantic Sunrise Project (“Project”)—an interstate pipeline designed to supply enough natural gas to meet the daily needs of more than 7 million American homes. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (“D.C. Circuit”) issued an opinion on August 2, 2019, upholding FERC’s decision to conditionally approve the Project. However, on September 16, 2019, Hilltop Hollow Limited Partnership, Hilltop Hollow Limited Partnership, LLC, and Stephen D. Hoffman (“Petitioners”) petitioned the court for rehearing of the court’s opinion en banc. The Petitioner’s main challenge was FERC’s usage of tolling orders, which allows FERC to delay rehearing after granting a pipeline certificate, as impermissible under the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The court granted that petition and vacated the underlying judgment in a December 5, 2019 order (see December 11, 2019 WER).
Continue Reading FERC Defends Use of Tolling Orders Before the DC Circuit En Banc

On January 31, 2020, FERC granted Xcel Energy Services Inc.’s application to terminate Southwestern Public Service Company’s (“SPS”) mandatory purchase obligation under Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (“PURPA”). In its order, FERC specifically found that (i) SPS, as a member of Southwest Power Pool, Inc. (“SPP”), is entitled to the presumption that qualifying cogeneration or small power production facilities (“QFs”) within SPS’s footprint have nondiscriminatory access to markets, and (ii) the protestors failed to adequately rebut this presumption. Accordingly, SPS is relieved of its obligation to enter into new contracts to purchase QF electric energy. FERC granted the application effective September 5, 2019.
Continue Reading FERC Grants SPS’s Application to Terminate PURPA’s Mandatory Purchase Obligation

On January 29, 2020, thirty-six Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives (“Representatives”) signed a letter expressing their concern about FERC’s December 19, 2019 Order (“Order”) directing PJM Interconnection, L.L.C (“PJM”) to apply its Minimum Offer Price Rule (“MOPR”) to all state-subsidized capacity resources (see December 20, 2019 edition of the WER). According to the Representatives, the Order “nullif[ies]” state energy preferences, prohibits states from pursuing their policy goals, increases consumer costs by forcing them to buy duplicative capacity, runs contrary to FERC’s duty to ensure energy markets are truly competitive, and places deregulated markets at risk. The Representatives requested that the Commission provide a response to each concern discussed in the letter.

Continue Reading House Democrats Express Concern over FERC’s PJM MOPR Order

At FERC’s monthly meeting held on January 23, 2020, Commissioner Bernard L. McNamee announced he will not seek reappointment as commissioner after his current term ends on June 30, 2020. Commissioner McNamee indicated that he will serve through the end of his term or later, if needed to help maintain a quorum at FERC in 2020.

Continue Reading Commissioner McNamee Announces He Will Not Seek Reappointment