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Russell Kooistra counsels an array of energy companies on various issues related to natural gas and electricity markets. Russell uses his in-depth knowledge of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) policy and regulations to advise clients on complex regulatory matters.

On September 17, 2020, at FERC’s Virtual Open Meeting, FERC Staff presented an overview of changes to its rehearing practices following the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s (“D.C. Circuit”) recent decision in Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC, 963 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2020) (en banc) (“Allegheny”), which rejected FERC’s practice of issuing “tolling orders” to grant itself more time to consider requests for rehearing (see July 1, 2020 issue of the WER). Staff explained that the changes to FERC’s rehearing practices are intended to allow appeals of FERC orders to proceed in a timely manner and on a complete administrative record. While the D.C. Circuit granted FERC’s motion to stay the court’s mandate in July (see July 29, 2020 edition of the WER), Staff explained in response to questions from FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee that Staff expects the D.C. Circuit to issue its mandate in early October.
Continue Reading FERC Staff Clarifies Changes to Rehearing Practices Following Allegheny Decision

On September 9, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (“First Circuit”) affirmed the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts (“District Court”)  dismissal of a lawsuit alleging Eversource Energy and Avangrid (“Defendants”) manipulated Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC (“Algonquin”) pipeline capacity and violated federal and state antitrust laws. The First Circuit followed its previous decision addressing a lawsuit challenging the same conduct by Defendants, but brought by different plaintiffs (see September 25, 2019 edition of the WER), which held that because the Defendants’ actions were permitted under a tariff filed with and accepted by FERC, the filed rate doctrine barred any attempt to challenge or change those rates or terms in federal court. Notably, the First Circuit also admonished FERC for being “slow to recognize market defects that create opportunities to exploit market power.”

Continue Reading First Circuit Affirms that Complaints About Gas Pipeline Capacity Hoarding in New England Are Barred by Filed Rate Doctrine, Criticizes FERC for not Policing Markets

On September 1, 2020, FERC issued an order overturning 40 years of Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (“PURPA”) precedent and revoking the qualifying facility (“QF”) status of Broadview Solar, LLC (“Broadview Solar”) after finding that it could not rely on inverters to meet PURPA’s statutory size limit. In a separate QF matter, the Supreme Court of the State of Montana (“Montana Supreme Court”) issued an opinion on August 24, 2020 finding the Montana Public Service Commission (“Montana Commission”) unlawfully set solar QF standard-offer rates by failing to consider carbon offsets and undervaluing solar QFs’ capacity contribution. Both cases will have substantial impacts for QF developers.   
Continue Reading FERC and Montana Supreme Court Issuances Bring Big Regulatory Shakeups to the PURPA Regulatory Landscape

On August 27, 2020, FERC directed further briefing and established a technical conference in the proceedings arising from two complaints in which American Electric Power Service Corporation (“AEP”) and the City of Prescott, Arkansas each alleged that they were subject to overlapping or duplicative congestion charges on load that is pseudo-tied out of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (“MISO”) into Southwest Power Pool, Inc. (“SPP”). FERC’s August 27 order responded to additional briefing by the parties ordered in September 2019, and held that even after the additional briefing, the record was inadequate to determine whether: (1) mechanisms including virtual transactions, Financial Transmission Rights, and firm flow entitlements are sufficient to remedy any potential for overlapping congestion charges; or (2) the Regional Transmission Organizations (“RTOs”) must make changes to their Joint Operating Agreement (“JOA”) and/or their individual tariffs to remedy the causes of overlapping or duplicative congestion charges. The August 27 order therefore required additional briefing, and directed Commission staff to hold a technical conference after further briefs are filed.
Continue Reading FERC Directs Further Briefing and Establishes Technical Conference on Overlapping Congestion Charges for MISO/SPP Pseudo-Tie Transactions

On July 27, 2020, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Mark Christie (Republican) and Allison Clements (Democrat) to fill the vacant Commissioner seats at FERC. Mr. Christie would replace the departing Commissioner Bernard McNamee—whose term expired on June 30, 2020 but who stayed at FERC past the expiration of his term to maintain a quorum (see January 28, 2020 edition of the WER)—while Ms. Clements would fill the remaining vacant seat. If both nominees are sworn in, the Commission would consist of three Republicans (Chairman Neil Chatterjee, Commissioner James Danly, and Mr. Christie) and two Democrats (Commission Richard Glick and Ms. Clements).
Continue Reading President Trump Nominates Mark Christie and Allison Clements as FERC Commissioners

On July 16, 2020, FERC dismissed a petition for declaratory order by the New England Ratepayers Association (“NERA”) that asked FERC to assert jurisdiction over net metering, finding that the petition failed to identify a specific controversy or harm that warranted a generic response from FERC. NERA’s petition had requested that FERC declare: (1) that all flows of electricity from behind-the-meter generators under state net metering programs back to the interconnected utility are wholesale sales subject to FERC’s exclusive jurisdiction, and (2) such sales should be priced in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) or the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (“PURPA”). Commissioners Bernard L. McNamee and James Danly issued separate concurring opinions, noting that though NERA’s petition was procedurally unsound, the issues raised could be addressed on the merits in a different proceeding.

Continue Reading FERC Declines Request to Assert Jurisdiction over Net Metering

On July 6, 2020, FERC moved for a ninety-day stay of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s (“D.C. Circuit’s”) mandate in Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC. That decision upset FERC’s long-used practice of granting itself more time to consider requests for rehearing of its orders by issuing tolling orders (see July 1, 2020 issue of the WER). Although the decision was issued in the context of a pipeline proceeding under the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”), FERC’s motion noted that the impact of the D.C. Circuit’s decision extends to all requests for rehearing under the NGA, and presumably to those under the Federal Power Act as well. In support of its motion, FERC explained that over the past fifty years, tolling orders have been a critical tool to help manage its large case load and bring its expertise to bear on complex technical matters before they are presented to the courts of appeals. FERC stated that a stay of the court’s mandate would afford it time to consider how to revise its processes and allocate its resources in the absence of tolling orders. FERC also argued that a stay would give it and the Solicitor General additional time to consider whether to petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, though it noted that the ultimate decision of whether to petition the Supreme Court lies with the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice.
Continue Reading FERC Moves to Stay DC Circuit’s Tolling Order Decision

On June 22, 2020, FERC issued a declaratory order confirming its view that it shares jurisdiction with the United States Bankruptcy Court (“Bankruptcy Court”) over transportation agreements between ETC Tiger Pipeline, LLC (“ETC Tiger”) and Chesapeake Energy Marketing L.L.C. (“Chesapeake”). As a result, aside from obtaining approval from the Bankruptcy Court to reject its contracts with ETC Tiger, Chesapeake must seek a determination from FERC as to whether a filed rate may be modified or abrogated under the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”).
Continue Reading FERC Asserts Concurrent Jurisdiction with Bankruptcy Court over Natural Gas Transportation Service Agreements

On June 4, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing federal agencies to take all reasonable measures to speed infrastructure investments and requiring the heads of all federal agencies to identify projects that can be exempted from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), or the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), pursuant to the emergency procedures within each act, among other requirements.
Continue Reading President Trump Issues Executive Order Directing the Expedition of NEPA Reviews

On June 9, 2020, FERC ordered amendments to its regulations to prohibit natural gas projects authorized under Sections 3 and 7 of the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) from commencing construction activities until after (i) the deadline for filing a request for rehearing has lapsed without a request being filed, or (ii) FERC has acted upon the merits of any timely-filed request for rehearing (“Order No. 871”). The new regulation will become effective, without any opportunity to file comments, 30 days after the Final Rule is published in the Federal Register. Because FERC’s orders on rehearing sometimes take several months, and in some cases more than a year to be issued, both liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) and natural gas pipeline projects approved by FERC could be significantly delayed from commencing construction as a result of Order No. 871.
Continue Reading FERC to Block LNG, Pipeline Project Construction Until After Rehearing Process is Complete