On October 25, 2019, FERC found that Vitol, Inc. (“Vitol”) and one of its traders, Federico Corteggiano, violated the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) and FERC’s rules prohibiting energy market manipulation by importing power at a loss from October 28 through November 1, 2013, at the border of the California Independent System Operator Corporation’s (“CAISO”) wholesale electric market in order to relieve transmission congestion and to benefit Vitol’s congestion revenue rights (“CRRs”) sourced at that location. The order follows an investigation into Vitol’s and Corteggiano’s trading practices that was initiated in 2014 by FERC’s Office of Enforcement. In July 2019, following the completion of Enforcement Staff’s investigation, FERC issued an order directing Vitol and Corteggiano to show cause why they should not be assessed Enforcement Staff’s recommended civil penalties of $6 million and $800,000 respectively, and directing Vitol to show cause why it should not disgorge $1,227,143 in unjust profits. FERC’s October 25 order affirmed Enforcement Staff’s conclusion that Vitol and Corteggiano engaged in market manipulation, and ordered Vitol to disgorge $1,227,143 in unjust profits. However, FERC significantly reduced Vitol’s civil penalty to $1.5 million and increased Corteggiano’s civil penalty to $1 million after concluding that Corteggiano was primarily responsible for the manipulative conduct.
Continue Reading FERC Orders Civil Penalties and Disgorgement of Profits in Cross-Market Manipulation Investigation

On September 19, 2019, one Independent and four Democratic U.S. Senators wrote a letter to FERC asking for an explanation of three actions the Senators believed showed an “apparent erosion” of the “vital role” FERC plays in preventing fraud and manipulation in U.S. energy markets and financial markets: (1) the decline in FERC-initiated civil penalty actions and the abrupt termination of non-public investigations without explanation; (2) the elimination of the Division of Energy Market Oversight (“DEMO”); and (3) the rescission of its policy on issuing Notices of Alleged Violations (“NAVs”) for investigations. Those Senators were Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Angus King (I-ME).

Continue Reading U.S. Senators Ask FERC to Explain “Apparent Erosion” of FERC’s Role in Preventing Market Manipulation

On August 27, 2019, FERC staff and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (“NERC”) staff (collectively, “Staff”) jointly issued a white paper on Notices of Penalty (“NOP”) for violating Critical Infrastructure Protection (“CIP”) Reliability Standards, which details requirements for Bulk Power System cyber security.  Staff elected to draft the white paper in response to the increase in Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests for the disclosure of non-public information in CIP NOPs, such as the identity of the CIP violator.  The overarching objective of the proposal is to provide increased transparency, while protecting sensitive security information that could jeopardize the Bulk Power System if made public.  If approved, the proposal will not have a retroactive effect on pending matters, or CIP NOPs already filed with the Commission.

Continue Reading FERC and NERC Issue Joint White Paper on Notices of Penalty for Violating Critical Infrastructure Protection Reliability Standards

On July 19, 2019, FERC largely denied four complaints filed in May and June of 2015 (“2015 Complaints”) concerning the results of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc.’s (“MISO”) 2015/16 Planning Resource Auction (“2015/16 Auction”) for Local Resource Zone 4 (“Zone 4”).  In relevant part, FERC: (1) found that the results of the 2015/16 Auction for Zone 4 were just and reasonable; and (2) denied requests to hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve issues related to the 2015/16 Auction.  Specifically, FERC found no evidence in the record indicating that certain Auction offers violated the MISO Tariff, and the resulting Zone 4 auction-clearing price was just and reasonable.
Continue Reading FERC Addresses Complaints Regarding Market Manipulation in MISO 2015/16 Capacity Auction

On June 26, 2019, the U.S. District Court of Maine (“District Court”) denied a motion for leave to file an interlocutory appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (“First Circuit”) ultimately concerning whether FERC’s enforcement action against Competitive Energy, LLC and its managing member Richard Silkman (collectively, “Respondents”) was time-barred.  The District Court previously denied two motions for summary judgment, relying on the First Circuit’s decision in United States v. Meyer (“Meyer”), which held that a FERC enforcement action accrues when FERC assesses a penalty, and therefore was not barred.  Respondents argued that the District Court should not have followed the First Circuit’s decision in Meyer because two subsequent United States Supreme Court (“Supreme Court”) decisions—Kokesh v. SEC (“Kokesh”) and Gabelli v. SEC (“Gabelli”)—have overruled Meyer.  In denying the motion for interlocutory appeal, the District Court held that whether Meyer continues to be good law does not present a “controlling question of law as to which there is a substantial ground for difference of opinion.” 
Continue Reading Federal District Court Denies Interlocutory Appeal Regarding the Statute of Limitations for FERC Enforcement Actions

On May 16, 2019, FERC rescinded its policy of issuing public Notices of Alleged Violations (“NAV”) after a subject of an investigation has had an opportunity to respond to Office of Enforcement (“OE”) staff’s preliminary findings (“NAV Policy”).  FERC found that the NAV Policy no longer struck an appropriate balance between the benefit of added transparency and the potential negative impacts that the loss of confidentiality may cause to investigative subjects.
Continue Reading FERC Rescinds Policy of Issuing Notices of Alleged Violations

On March 21, 2019, the Commission issued a proposed order directing two wind energy generators, Cedar Creek Wind Energy, LLC (“Cedar Creek”) and Cedar Creek II, LLC (“Cedar Creek II”) (collectively the “Cedar Creek Entities”) to provide interconnection and transmission service to a proposed wind project, Mountain Breeze Wind, LLC (“Mountain Breeze”) across jointly-owned interconnection customer facilities (“ICIF”) to the Public Service Company of Colorado (“PSCo”) transmission system.  Although Cedar Creek II sought to dismiss the matter as an impermissible attempt by Mountain Breeze to acquire an ownership interest in the ICIF outside of a Federal Power Act (“FPA”) Section 203 or Section 205 proceeding, FERC rejected this characterization and instead found narrowly that Mountain Breeze had properly filed an application for Commission-ordered service under FPA Sections 210 and 211.  FERC directed the parties to attempt to reach an agreement on the terms and conditions for interconnection and transmission service, or a separate order prescribing such terms and conditions would be issued.
Continue Reading FERC Issues Proposed Order Directing Wind Farms to Provide Transmission Service over Jointly-Owned Tie Line

On January 4, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine (“Maine District Court”) issued an order on two motions for summary judgment concluding that FERC’s assessment of a civil penalty against Competitive Energy Services, LLC (“CES”) and its managing member, Richard Silkman (collectively, “Respondents”) was not time-barred by the statute of limitations under 28 U.S.C. § 2462.  In doing so, the Maine District Court denied the Respondents’ motion for summary judgment. 
Continue Reading District Court Rules FERC Enforcement Claim Not Barred by Statute of Limitations

On September 24, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (“District Court”) concluded that FERC’s assessment of a civil penalty against Powhatan Energy Fund, LLC and certain of its traders and affiliates (“Powhatan”) for market manipulation allegations was not barred by the statute of limitations because FERC’s claim accrued when Powhatan failed to pay the civil penalty rather than when the alleged violations actually occurred.  However, the District Court noted that it was particularly difficult to apply the statute of limitations to enforcement actions brought under the Federal Power Act’s (“FPA”) de novo review procedures and thus stayed the issue to allow Powhatan to file an interlocutory appeal.
Continue Reading District Court Rules FERC Action Against Powhatan Not Barred by Statute of Limitations

On June 8, 2018, FERC approved a Stipulation and Consent Agreement (“Settlement”) between the Office of Enforcement (“OE”) and Duke Energy Corporation and its public utility operating subsidiaries (“Duke”).  OE claimed that Duke violated FERC regulations when it failed to accurately describe certain information in the transmission studies submitted in support of its merger with Progress Energy, Inc. (collectively, “Applicants”).  FERC determined that the Settlement was fair and reasonable and resolved all outstanding claims and proceedings between OE and Duke. 
Continue Reading FERC Approves Civil Penalty Against Duke for Submitting Inaccurate Data in Section 203 Proceeding