On May 26, 2020, FERC staff issued an order determining that additional information provided by the South Carolina Public Service Authority (Santee Cooper) was sufficient for FERC to determine that certain investments made over the term of the existing license for the Santee Cooper Project (FERC No. 199) satisfied the criteria under section 36(b) of the Federal Power Act (FPA), and should be considered when the Commission establishes the length of the next license term for the Project.
Continue Reading FERC Approves Additional Early Action Investments to Support Longer License Term on Relicensing

On Thursday, April 16, 2020, FERC issued two orders concerning section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) and state agencies’ waiver of their right to issue certifications for FERC-licensed hydroelectric projects.  In an order responding to a request from the Nevada Irrigation District (“NID”), the Commission determined that the California State Water Resources Control Board (“California Board” or “Board”) waived its authority to issue water quality certification under section 401.  In a second order, FERC denied requests for rehearing and a stay of a September 20, 2019 order issuing an original license to McMahan Hydroelectric, LLC (“McMahan”) for the Bynum Project in North Carolina and holding that the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (“North Carolina DEQ”) waived its authority to issue water quality certification under section 401.
Continue Reading FERC Issues Two Orders Finding Waiver of Water Quality Certification

On April 10, 2020, FERC consolidated two separate dockets resulting from PJM Interconnection, L.L.C.’s (“PJM”) Order No. 841 compliance proceeding, and established paper hearing procedures to examine PJM’s methodology for calculating capacity values—not just for Electric Storage Resources (“ESRs”) participating in its capacity markets, but for all resource types, including run-of-river hydroelectric resources with and without reservoir storage capability. However, FERC held the proceedings in abeyance through October 30, 2020 to permit PJM and its stakeholders time to consider replacing the current capacity value calculation methodology with a new, Effective Load Carrying Capability (“ELCC”) approach. FERC concluded that the October 30 deadline would provide sufficient time to consider the new approach, while also allowing for new rules to become effective in advance of PJM’s next capacity auction. Commissioner Richard Glick issued partial dissent, explaining that he would have held the proceedings in abeyance until January 29, 2021.
Continue Reading FERC Establishes Hearing to Determine PJM Capacity Values; Holds Hearing in Abeyance Until October 2020

On February 20, 2020, FERC staff issued a letter to the licensee for the FERC-licensed Anderson Dam Project (“Project”), directing the licensee to immediately initiate a full drawdown of the Project’s reservoir by October 1, 2020. The Project is located south of San Francisco and serves as an important water supply resource, but has long been identified as vulnerable to flooding and seismic events that could result in the catastrophic spilling of floodwaters into Silicon Valley.  As such, the licensee has been operating the Project at a restricted reservoir level (as low as 58% of capacity in 2020) to mitigate flooding and seismic risks.
Continue Reading FERC Requires that Anderson Dam Drain Reservoir

On March 19, 2020, FERC granted Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (“PG&E”), licensee for the Kilarc-Cow Creek Hydroelectric, Project No. 606 (“Project”), request for a Declaratory Order finding that the California State Water Resources Control Board (“California Board”) waived its authority to issue a water quality certification under section 401 of the Clean Water Act.  FERC’s recent opinion continues its application of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in Hoopa Valley Tribe (see December 11, 2019 edition of the WER), which held that section 401 provides one year as the absolute maximum for a state to act on a water quality certification application and rejected an extension of the statutory deadline via a coordinated withdrawal-and-resubmission scheme between an applicant and the state certifying agency.
Continue Reading Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Continues to Apply D.C. Circuit Ruling

On March 5, 2020, the United States Senate approved a motion to proceed on the American Energy Innovation Act (“AEIA”), S. 2657, after a cloture vote was called on the motion by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in order to move the bill to the Senate floor. However, on March 9, 2020, at least two measures to limit debate on the bill itself were rejected—opening the door for numerous floor amendments, including legislative language to limit greenhouse gas emissions that is projected to be offered by Senate Democrats.

The AEIA is a compendium of energy-related statutory provisions which was released in an omnibus, bipartisan legislative package on February 27, 2020 by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Senator Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.). Senators Murkowski and Manchin offered a substitute amendment featuring the full text of the AEIA (Amendment 1407) after the motion to proceed was voted-out affirmatively, and they are acting as floor managers for the bill.

Among other things, the bill focuses on advancements and development of energy storage and hydropower resources. In particular, as described in greater detail below, the bill directs FERC to initiate a rulemaking on cost recovery for energy storage assets and extends authorization for certain incentives to develop generation at non-powered or already-powered dams. The Committee held approximately 12 months of hearings on many of the proposed legislation’s components. If enacted, the bill would constitute the first major piece of national energy legislation since the Energy Policy Act of 2005, after a twelve-year hiatus in significant congressional activity.
Continue Reading Bipartisan American Energy Innovation Act Being Considered on Floor of U.S. Senate

On Monday, March 2, FERC staff issued three virtually identical orders extending the license terms for 20 hydroelectric projects along the Wisconsin River that have licenses set to expire between 2026 and 2035, to align their license expiration dates and better coordinate the FERC relicensing process.  The three orders each address licenses for projects located in certain sub-basins of the Wisconsin River: the northern sub-basin, which includes eight projects; the central sub-basin, which includes 10 projects, and the southern sub-basin, which includes two projects.
Continue Reading FERC Grants Extension of Hydropower License Terms

On Tuesday, January 28, Democratic leadership from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Environment and Climate Change and Energy Subcommittees released legislative text of the draft “Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (“CLEAN”) Future Act, which aims for the United States to achieve a “100 percent clean economy” no later than 2050.
Continue Reading House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Draft “CLEAN Future Act” Includes Hydropower Provisions

On December 9, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to revisit the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit’s decision in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, 913 F.3d 1099 (2019), allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand.  The key holding of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion, which concerned the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (“FERC”) relicensing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, is that the States of California and Oregon waived their authorities under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1341, by failing to rule on the applicant’s submitted request for water quality certification within one year.  The D.C. Circuit held that the plain language of CWA section 401 establishes a maximum period of one year for states to act on a request for water quality certification.  Accordingly, the court further held that FERC erred in concluding that the “withdrawal-and-resubmittal” of the water quality certification application on an annual basis resets the one-year statutory time period for state action under section 401.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Declines to Hear Clean Water Act Section 401 Case

On December 3, 2019, FERC issued an order in response to South Carolina Public Service Authority’s (“SCPSA”) October 8, 2019 request for a determination under section 36(c) of the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) that certain project investments made over the term of the existing license for the Santee Cooper Project meet the criteria set forth in FPA section 36(b)(2), and therefore should be considered when the Commission establishes the length of the next license term for the Project.  The Commission’s December 3 order held that most of the prior investments identified in SCPSA’s request—approximately $90 million—met the statutory criteria and will be considered when the Commission sets the new license term in its future order on relicensing. 
Continue Reading FERC Issues Order on Early Action Investments