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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 October 28, 2020, FERC declined to abrogate or modify firm natural gas transportation service agreements (“Gulfport TSAs”) between Gulfport Energy Corporation (“Gulfport”) and Rockies Express Pipeline LLC (“Rockies Express”) in response to a Rockies Express petition anticipating a potential Gulfport bankruptcy filing. After an expedited paper hearing, FERC concluded that the public interest does not presently require any modification, and thus, that the Gulfport TSAs on file remain just and reasonable. In doing so, FERC found that Gulfport failed to provide the evidence needed under Mobile-Sierra for FERC to find that abrogation of the Gulfport TSAs would be in the public interest. FERC’s order also follows its recent determination that it shares concurrent jurisdiction with the Bankruptcy Court over abrogation or modification of gas transportation agreements (see July 1, 2020 edition of the WER).
Continue Reading FERC Finds Abrogation of Gas TSAs Would Not Be in the Public Interest Ahead of Possible Bankruptcy Proceeding

On October 16, 2020, FERC issued a number of orders at its open meeting that addressed unrelated requests for retroactive waiver of various Regional Transmission Organization and utility tariff provisions. Commissioner James Danly issued a separate statement in each proceeding. Commissioner Danly dissented from many of the orders granting waiver and concurred in the result when the orders dismissed the requests for waiver or granted waiver in certain specific circumstances. In his dissent from an order granting Sunflower Electric Power Cooperative’s (“Sunflower’s”) petition for waiver of certain Southwest Power Pool, Inc. Tariff provisions, Commissioner Danly stated his belief that FERC has no legal discretion to grant retroactive waivers unless the waivers meet certain well-defined exceptions: first, if the parties had notice that tariff provision could be waived retroactively, or second, if the tariff provision is embodied in a private contract between parties who have agreed in the contract to make the rate effective prior to filing the contract with the Commission.
Continue Reading Commissioner Danly Objects to FERC’s Continued Practice of Granting Retroactive Waivers

On September 30, 2020, FERC accepted the California Independent System Operator Corporation’s (“CAISO”) proposals to: 1) permit electric vehicle charging stations to participate in CAISO’s demand response program separately from their host facilities (“EV Proposal”); and 2) incentivize behind-the-meter energy storage in CAISO’s demand response programs to “load shift” by consuming energy during over supply conditions and returning that energy to the system during times of need (“Load Shifting Proposal”). FERC held that CAISO’s proposals would enhance its demand response programs, which compensate load, storage, and generation resources for curtailing their demand in response to CAISO’s instructions. FERC also found that the proposals would ensure that CAISO’s policies keep pace with rapidly evolving electric vehicle and behind-the-meter storage technologies, and would permit these resources to participate in the CAISO market under rules that capture their unique characteristics and benefits.
Continue Reading FERC Accepts CAISO Rules Enhancing Demand Response Program for Electric Vehicle Charging Stations and Behind-the-Meter Energy Storage Resources

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