Fulfilling a promise made in a November order, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") on March 22 filed suit against the Idaho Public Utilities Commission ("IPUC"), asserting that the IPUC violated FERC rules under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act ("PURPA"). The lawsuit follows on the heels of a March 15 FERC order (Grouse Creek Wind Park LLC, EL13-39-000), in which FERC found another IPUC PURPA violation, meriting a second enforcement action against the IPUC. FERC's actions are extraordinary, marking the first time FERC has exercised its PURPA enforcement authority directly against a state commission.
PURPA, passed in 1978, was the first blow struck against the traditional industry model of regulated, vertically-integrated utility monopolies. Passed in response to the energy crises of the 1970s, PURPA was intended to open the generation market to small, independent producers. Thus, PURPA mandates that utilities purchase power from "Qualifying Facilities" ("QFs") -- generally, smaller, independently-owned renewable generation facilities -- at "avoided cost" rates, equal to the cost of the marginal resource the utility would have to purchase if it did not buy from the QF. This purchase obligation lies at the heart of the FERC-IPUC controversy.