Please join us for Law Seminar International's Columbia River Treaty Conference, which will be held here in Seattle on September 22 & 23, 2014. The conference is particularly timely because, as we've discussed at length here, September marks a critical turning point for the Treaty, which is one of the cornerstones of our regional economy, and a major factor in issues ranging from salmon restoration to water quality and flood control. We're pleased to announce that GTH partner Jim Waldo will co-chair the conference and GTH partner Eric Christensen will be speaking. We hope to see you there!
Recently in electric transmission Category
The United States Senate today confirmed President Obama's nominations of Cheryl A. LeFleur and Norman Bay to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Commissioner LeFleur has served on the Commission since 2010 and the confirmation will allow her to serve a full five-year term. Mr. Bay will replace former Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.
Mr. Bay has been the Director of FERC's Office of Enforcement since 2009. In that capacity, he was responsible for a substantial rise in that office's profile. For example, as a result of an Office of Enforcement investigation of market manipulation in the West, FERC last year sought nearly $500 million in penalties against Barclays Bank and certain of its power traders, and $410 million against JP Morgan.
"September 16: Pivot Point for the Columbia River Treaty and the Future of the Columbia River Basin": Eric Christensen Publishes Article in "The Water Report"
We're proud to announce that GTH partner Eric Christensen has published an article in the July 2014 issue of The Water Report, one of the most respected trade journals among water resource professionals. We've inserted the text below:
AND THE FUTURE OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER BASIN
The Columbia River is the flowing heart of the Pacific Northwest's economy and environment. Major industries including hydroelectric power, irrigation, fisheries, recreation and navigation all depend upon the River. The River supports iconic salmon and steelhead runs that are central to native cultures throughout the Columbia River Basin. While the River is the lifeblood of dozens of communities lining its shores, it can be a grave danger to these same communities, as destructive floods in, for example, 1896 and 1948, demonstrate.
Managing the river to support multiple, often-competing uses, while managing floods and protecting water quality, presents mammoth challenges. Adding to these challenges is the fact that the Columbia Basin occupies two countries, flowing for several hundred miles through Canada before entering the United States. For the last fifty years, the Columbia River Treaty ("CRT") has governed water storage, flood control, and power operations on the Columbia, with profound effects on both sides of the border.
A key treaty milestone is fast approaching: September 16, 2014, marks the first time since 1964 that the parties can provide notice of their intent to terminate the CRT. Anticipating this milestone, extensive consultation processes have been carried out on both sides of the border to develop recommendations on whether the CRT should be terminated or continued and, if continued, under what terms. Within the last few months, the consultations have been completed and recommendations submitted to the federal governments on both sides of the border. Comparing these recommendations reveals that a broad consensus that the CRT should be modernized, but little agreement on what modernization means. How and whether these competing views are resolved will have profound effects throughout the Columbia Basin for decades to come.
THE TREATY AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE COLUMBIA BASIN
The CRT is a product of an era when rivers were viewed in utilitarian terms, and primacy was placed on development to maximize their hydroelectric capacity and navigation potential. On the U.S. side of the border, the idea of comprehensive river development dates to 1925, when Congress amended the Rivers and Harbors Act to require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ("COE") to conduct "multiple-use studies on the nation's rivers." The COE completed its study of the Columbia in 1932 and, facing the specter of Depression-era poverty, President Franklin Roosevelt seized upon construction of the Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams as a means to spur economic development by creating abundant, inexpensive electricity and irrigating the vast Columbia Plateau.
With the completion of Grand Coulee in 1942, attention turned to the next logical site for construction of a major dam, at Libby, Montana. But the Libby dam would flood over forty miles of the Kootenay Valley in British Columbia, making construction an international issue. Then, in 1948, a major Columbia River flood destroyed Vanport, then the second-largest city in Oregon, killing fifteen people. Flood control had not been a major consideration in early planning efforts, but the Vanport flood dramatically highlighted the need for flood storage. But potential dam sites on the U.S. side of the border offered relatively limited opportunities for storage, creating another international issue.
On the Canadian side of the border, similar pressures for river development were unfolding, culminating in the election of WAC Bennett as Premier of British Columbia in 1952. Bennett would serve for two decades, easily the longest tenure of any B.C. Premier. Bennett advocated for broad-scale development of British Columbia's natural resources, including its vast water resources. He advanced a "Two Rivers Policy," with major hydroelectric and water storage reservoirs to be constructed on the Columbia and Peace Rivers, and created the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority ("BC Hydro") to carry out this work. Further, quirks of hydrology and topography mean that 50% of the Basin's flood storage capacity lies in Canada even though only 15% of the Basin's area lies north of the border. It thus became clear to both sides that agreement on a framework for River development between the two countries was necessary.
For much of this period, beginning in 1943, the two countries cooperatively studied Columbia River development through the International Joint Commission. The Commission's plan, finally delivered in 1959, laid the groundwork for comprehensive development of the River and for the CRT, which was finalized in 1961.
THE FUNDAMENTAL BARGAIN OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER TREATY
The CRT addresses a basic fact of Columbia River geography: Storage on the River is concentrated in Canada, while hydropower production is concentrated in the United States. For this reason, flood control in the United States depends heavily on storage operations in Canada. Further, there is a strong interdependence between Canadian and U.S. hydroelectric dams operating on the same river. Hence, the CRT can best be understood as encapsulating two basic principles. First, Canada provides flood control benefits to the United States and the United States pays Canada for these benefits. Second, coordinated operation of Canada's storage reservoirs, carried out by the bi-national Permanent Engineering Board, allows power output from dams in the United States to be optimized, and the countries split the benefits of this additional downstream power. Canada's share of these downstream power benefits is known as the "Canadian Entitlement."
With these principles established, the CRT paved the way for four major dams, three in Canada and one in the United States. The three Canadian dams (Mica, Arrow/Keenleyside, and Duncan) would create 15.5 million acre-feet ("MAF") of storage. The United States was authorized to construct Libby Dam on the Kootenai River in Montana, with nearly 5 MAF of storage.
The CRT did not provide financing for the Canadian dams, which created a stumbling block for treaty ratification in Canada. Recognizing that power from the Canadian dams would not be needed in British Columbia for decades, WAC Bennett suggested that the power could be sold to utilities in the United States. A large group of Pacific Northwest utilities took up this offer, agreeing in the Columbia Power Storage Exchange Agreement ("CPSE") to pay approximately $254 million for the first thirty years of the Canadian Entitlement. The CSPE thus financed construction of the Canadian dams, removing the final barrier to ratification of the CRT. On September 16, 1964, in a ceremony at the Peace Arch International Park attended by a crowd of 10,000, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson signed the CRT, the culmination of a two-decade effort to create a bi-national plan for development of the River.
The parties agreed that the CRT should remain in place for no less than sixty years and, after that, would continue unless terminated, with ten years' notice required for termination. Thus, September 16, 2014, is a critical date for the CRT. This is the first date upon which either side can provide the required ten-year notice of termination upon expiration of the CRT's 60-year minimum term, which runs through September 16, 2024.
In preparation for September 16, the the COE and the Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA")(referred to jointly as the "U.S. Entity" in CRT parlance) have conducted extensive technical studies and, as noted above, broad outreach programs to determine whether to seek termination, modification, or other changes to the CRT. The Government of British Columbia had carried out a similar undertaking north of the border.
UPDATING THE CRT
The CRT is a product of its times, focusing almost exclusively on acre-feet of storage and megawatt-hours of power. To Twenty-First Century readers, the most striking feature of the CRT is its failure to even mention fisheries, wildlife, water quality, and the other environmental issues, whether in the context of national environmental policy or Native American rights. As those involved in Pacific Northwest water and power issues are well aware, since the passage of landmark legislation such as the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the region has struggled mightily to maintain the enormous economic benefits provided by the Columbia Basin dams while recovering endangered salmon and steelhead runs, improving water quality, and meeting other mandates arising from modern environmental legislation. And, as discussed below, landmark court rulings on both sides of the border have greatly expanded the role Native American tribes play in natural resources and environmental policy.
Hence, it is not surprising that the consultation processes on both sides of the border resulted in recommendations that ecosystem values be recognized and integrated into the CRT. On the U.S. side, the U.S. Entity Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty After 2024 ("U.S. Recommendation"), adopted in December 2013, concludes that "ecosystem-based functions" should be a recognized, shared value of the CRT. On the Canadian side, the Columbia River Treaty Review B.C. Decision ("B.C. Recommendation"), adopted in March 2014, also espouses the principle that ecosystem benefits should be recognized, accounted for, and equitably shared between the two countries. But exactly what is included in "ecosystem functions" and how those functions should be treated in the CRT is largely left to the imagination.
On other issues, the Recommendations diverge. Each side claims that the CRT in its current form provides inadequate compensation to that side and that the other side receives excessive benefits. The Recommendations reflect a similar gulf between the two countries on an array critical issues. These include:
Upon ratification of the CRT in 1964, the United States made a one-time payment to Canada of $64.4 million for defined flood control benefits for the sixty-year period ending in 2024 using the 15.5 MAF of storage constructed under the CRT. After 2024, the CRT's flood control regime changes substantially, even if the Treaty is not modified. Rather than providing defined flood control benefits, flood control will be based upon ill-defined treaty provisions requiring Canada to provide flood control when "called upon" by the United States, but only after the United States makes "effective use" of its own storage reservoirs for flood management. If the U.S. calls upon Canada for flood control, the U.S. must pay both the direct costs and opportunity costs, in the form of forgone power production, incurred by Canada for flood control operations. The CRT does not, however, provide specifics as to how any of these terms are defined, and it has become clear that the two sides interpret the terms differently.
An examination of the Recommendations reveals fundamentally different views about how flood management should be handled after 2024. Perhaps the most obvious difference lies in basic flood management objectives. The B.C. Recommendation advocates a 600,000 cubic feet per second ("cfs") flood control target, while the U.S. Recommendation argues the existing flood control target, 450,000 cfs, should be retained. The lower target, 450,000 cfs, is considered the threshold at which flood damage begins to occur on the U.S. portion of the River. By contrast, 600,000 cfs is the threshold at which major flood damage starts to occur. Adoption of the 600,000 cfs target, then, implies that the United States would have to make substantial investments in flood management or bear increased costs from flood damage if the Canadian Recommendations on this issue are adopted.
The flood control regime adopted after 2024 could also substantially limit the use of U.S. reservoir storage capacity to support irrigation and other current river uses. Studies conducted by the U.S. Entity suggest that "effective use" of U.S. storage capacity will require reservoirs to be drawn down more often and to lower levels than they are now, which could impair the ability of those reservoirs to meet irrigation demands, as well as demands for navigation, fisheries, and other in-river uses. The magnitude of these impacts depends heavily upon how "effective use" is defined. In addition, these impacts are substantially greater if the U.S. maintains a 450,000 cfs flood management target for flood management, rather than shifting to a 600,000 cfs target. On the other hand, reducing reliance on Canadian storage reservoirs will require less fluctuation of reservoir levels and fewer drawdowns, reducing associated impacts on navigation, recreation, and dust levels (from exposed reservoir sediments) in the Canadian portion of the Basin.
The Canadian Entitlement and Power Production
While flood control under the CRT may change drastically in 2024, the same is not true of river coordination. Unless the CRT is terminated or renegotiated, coordinated river operations will continue much as they have under the Treaty to date. From the U.S. perspective, this is problematic because the CRT includes at least two outdated assumptions. First, treaty negotiators assumed that regional base-load generation would increasingly be supplied by coal- and nuclear-fired plants, with hydro shifting to meet peak demands, but construction of thermal plants fell far short of those expectations. Second, the CRT does not recognize constraints arising from U.S. environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act. As a result, the Canadian Entitlement is now out of line with the actual benefits of coordinated river operation, creating substantial costs for the United States. The U.S. Entity estimates that, for the period from August 2010 to July 2011, the "Canadian Entitlement" provided 535.7 megawatts ("MW") of annual average energy to Canada, delivered at rates up to 1,316 MW, valued at between $250 million and $350 million annually.
But, according to a U.S. Entity study, fisheries conservation requirements have reduced the output of the U.S. hydro system by 1520 to 1655 MW on an annual average, and the benefits of coordinated river operation have fallen accordingly. If the Treaty were terminated, with the resulting loss of coordinated river operations, the study concluded that output of the U.S. hydro system would drop by about 90-94 MW on an annual average, when environmental constraints are accounted for. This represents less than one percent of the output of the U.S. system. By contrast, the study estimated the Canadian Entitlement in 2024 would be about 470 average MW using the current CRT calculation. Accordingly, the U.S. Recommendation concludes that "Canada is deriving substantially greater value from coordinated power operations than the United States," and "rebalancing" the Canadian Entitlement is necessary.
The B.C. Recommendation, by contrast, argues that the Canadian Entitlement is the sole form of compensation currently operating under the CRT, and that the level of benefits provided does not reflect the "full range" of "impacts in British Columbia." In particular, British Columbia has argued that the U.S. receives huge flood control benefits, with avoided damages in the billions of dollars. On the other hand, the burdens created by the CRT have fallen disproportionately on Southeast British Columbia, where 231 square miles of valley bottom land were flooded, communities displaced, and economies disrupted by construction of the three Canadian CRT dams. With expiration of the CSPE in the mid-1990s, the Canadian Entitlement began flowing back to Canada and B.C.'s Parliament directed that funds from the Canadian Entitlement be used to fund the Columbia Basin Trust, which funds mitigation of impacts of dam construction and operation in southeast British Columbia.
Reducing the Canadian Entitlement, as the U.S. Entity recommends, would thus reduce funding for mitigation efforts in the most heavily affected regions of British Columbia, creating a potentially serious political conflict. One solution may be to direct U.S. payments for flood control to the Columbia Basin Trust. The U.S. Entity estimates that compensation for lost hydropower production would be in the range of $4 million to $34 million for each time Canada is requested to assist with flood management under the "called upon" regime.
A similar disconnect between costs and beneficiaries also exists on the U.S. side of the border. The costs of the Canadian Entitlement are borne by BPA, and therefore ultimately fall upon BPA's power customers, primarily public power entities such as Public Utility Districts, municipal power agencies, and rural electric cooperatives. But flood control primarily benefits communities along the River, and BPA power customers are, for the most part, located far from areas affected by Columbia River flooding. This divergence between beneficiaries and those who bear the costs could create strong opposition to the CRT among U.S. power interests. The U.S. Recommendation therefore suggests that "U.S. interests should ensure that costs associated with any Treaty operation are aligned with the appropriate party."
The U.S. Recommendation urges the modernized CRT to provide for "stream-flows from Canada with appropriate timing, quantity, and water quality to promote productive populations of anadromous fish," and also to provide reservoir conditions that support healthy fish and wildlife populations. The U.S. Recommendation also states that stream-flows should be part of the "long-term assurance of eco-system based function" provided by the CRT, rather than being negotiated on a yearly basis as part of annual operating plans developed by the U.S. and Canadian Entities, as currently occurs. The U.S. Recommendation also advocates a joint program to study and possibly implement fish passage at the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams in order to restore anadromous fish runs in the Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin.
The B.C. Recommendations concerning ecosystem functions are considerably less detailed, suggesting only that the CRT recognize and account for ecosystem functions, and that such functions are "an important consideration" in planning and implementing the CRT. On the issue of Grand Coulee fish passage, the B.C. Recommendation concludes that this is "not a Treaty issue" because salmon migration into Canada was eliminated at Grand Coulee in 1938, well before the CRT was ratified. Fish passage is therefore "the responsibility of each country regarding their respective infrastructure."
Both the U.S. and B.C. Recommendations urge broader recognition of benefits, including navigation, recreation, agricultural, and municipal uses. True to form, the U.S. Recommendation includes greater detail, noting that studies conducted by the U.S. Entity identified the potential for additional fall and winter storage in Canada, which could be used to support downstream irrigation, navigation, industrial, and in-stream uses in spring and summer. The B.C. Recommendation merely sets forth the principle that these are among the downstream uses that should be recognized, accounted for, and "shared equitably" between the two countries.
The difficult for CRT negotiators is, of course, that these different river uses often compete. For example, water retained in the river for navigation or devoted to municipal uses cannot be used by irrigators. Indeed, a great deal of controversy has arisen in recent decades over the use of increased flows to encourage in-stream migration of juvenile salmon because the water devoted to fish flows is generally unavailable to generate power or to support other economic uses of the River.
THE FUTURE OF THE TREATY
In both countries, the respective Recommendations have now been submitted to the each country's federal governments, and primary responsibility now lies with the U.S. Department of State and the Canadian Foreign Ministry to determine next steps. And, despite differences on specific issues, it is unlikely that either country will immediately seek to terminate the CRT. In fact, both countries recognize that the CRT has been, on the whole, a resounding success, and both Recommendations therefore argue that the CRT should be reformed, but should not be terminated. The U.S. Recommendation, however, places an important limit on this principle, suggesting, somewhat ominously, that if agreement on "key aspects of a modernized Treaty" is not attained by 2015, "other options" to modernize the CRT "should be evaluated."
The outcome of the negotiations will be strongly influenced by several factors that were not present when the CRT was originally negotiated in the 1950s and '60s. These include:
Native American Rights
Because they have been accorded improved legal and political status in the last half-century, Native Americans on both sides of the border will have much greater influence on modernization of the CRT than on the original negotiations. In the United States, court decisions such as the landmark "Boldt decision" (United States v. Washington, 384 F. Supp. 312 (W.D. Wash. 1974), aff'd, 526 F.2d 676 (9th Cir. 1975)) read treaty rights broadly, giving tribes in the United States considerable leverage over decisions involving traditional fisheries and other natural resources. In Canada, similar legal developments, culminating in the 1997 Delgamuukw decision (Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, 3 S.C.R. 1010 (1997)), accorded First Nations substantial legal rights related to land and natural resources, requiring Canadian federal and provincial governments to consult with First Nations on a nation-to-nation basis.
Both Canadian First Nations and Native American tribes in the United States view the CRT as an avenue to improve and protect salmon runs and other natural resources, as well as cultural resources on both sides of the border. It is therefore unsurprising that the Recommendations from both sides of the border contain numerous references to the need for improving protection of cultural and natural resources important to First Nations and Native American tribes.
Climate Change and Adaptive Management
Absent when the CRT was first negotiated, climate change is now the subject of ubiquitous study and political controversy. Current climate models suggest that, while overall precipitation levels in the Columbia River Basin area likely to remain relatively constant as the region's climate warms, a substantial shift in river flows will likely occur, with increasing winter flows and a smaller spring freshet as increasing amounts of winter precipitation fall as rain rather than mountain snow, especially in the U.S. portion of the Basin. If stream-flows change as predicted, significant changes in flood control, storage, and hydroelectric operations will be required. Hence, the Recommendations from both sides of the border counsel in favor of flexibility to adapt to climate-induced stream-flow changes.
The history of the CRT also suggests the need for adaptability. Much of the dissatisfaction with the CRT today arises from predictions made in the 1960s about, for example, the value of the Canadian Entitlement, that have turned out to be incorrect by a wide margin. As the Recommendations make clear, if the formulas used to calculate benefits under the CRT diverge from the actual, on-the-ground benefits provided by the CRT, political opposition will arise from interests that perceive they are being over-charged for the benefits they receive. To make the CRT politically viable over the long term, then, negotiators should concentrate on developing benefits formulas that incorporate the changing values of Treaty benefits. For example, downstream power benefits should be calculated using the regional market price indices that have developed in the power industry in the last three decades. These indices were unavailable when the CRT was originally negotiated, but now can be incorporated into the Treaty as a means to ensure that power benefits reflect the changing value of power over time, and therefore keep power-related benefit payments in line with actual value of the power generated or transferred.
Future Duration of the Treaty
Another issue raised by the Recommendations is the duration the CRT after 2024. Neither Recommendation endorses a specific period, but both suggest that the post-2024 CRT should remain in place for a considerable period. The B.C. Recommendation states that the CRT after 2024 "should be fixed for a sufficient duration to provide planning and operational certainty" while including "adaptive mechanisms" to account for changes over time. The U.S. Recommendation similarly urges that the "minimum duration" of the post-2024 CRT "should be long enough to allow each country to rely on the Treaty's planned operations and benefits for purposes of managing their long-range budgets, resource plans, and investments," but should also incorporate "adaptive management" mechanisms to allow necessary course corrections over time.
Because investments in major water and power infrastructure generally involve assets with an extremely long life and long-term amortization, these statements imply that the duration of the post-2024 CRT should be in the range of 30-50 years to provide the assurances for such long-term investments. But neither country is likely to commit to a new multi-decade term unless negotiated-for benefits will remain in line with actual benefits over the long term. This underscores the importance of the benefits formulas and other adaptive management provisions, discussed above, that anticipate long-term changes in relevant parameters and account for those changes in a manner fair and reasonably predictable to both sides.
OPTIONS FOR TREATY MODIFICATION
The CRT could be terminated and a completely new Treaty negotiated, signed by the President, with two-thirds majority approval by the U.S. Senate under the Treaty Clause of the U.S. Constitution, with parallel political processes in Canada. Following this course would present substantial and obvious political perils. Fortunately, there are a number of options available to negotiators other than allow the CRT to continue in its current form indefinitely or terminating it and negotiating an entirely new Treaty.
The menu of options available to negotiators includes, for example, an exchange of notes, reflecting agreement between the two nations on specific issues. Such an exchange of notes occurred when the CRT was ratified in 1964, and was aimed at clarifying some portions of the 1961 text. The CRT also includes Annexes and Protocols that set forth details on flood control, downstream power benefits calculations, and other issues, which could be modified without terminating the CRT itself. Similarly, contracts along the lines of the CSPE or implementation legislation in one or both countries could be used as the vehicle for modernization, or to address specific problems, without requiring Treaty termination.
These options have important differences involving, for example, whether formal legislative approval is required, how the agreement is enforced, and how durable the agreement would be over time. Fortunately, the range of options available will allow negotiators to select one or more options that are appropriate for the particular issues being addressed, the need for permanence, and the desire for formal political approval.
NON-TREATY STORAGE AGREEMENT
When Canada actually constructed the Mica Dam, it included an additional 5 MAF of storage that was not required under the CRT. This is referred to as "Non-Treaty Storage." Use of the Non-Treaty Storage has been governed for several decades under a series of agreements between the U.S. Entity and BC Hydro. The most recent Non-Treaty Storage Agreement ("NTSA"), signed in 2012, governs operation of the Non-Treaty Storage through September 15, 2024, so will end simultaneously with the expiration of the CRT's 60-year minimum term. The 2012 NTSA is remarkable in that it generated almost no controversy, a nearly unheard-of feat for any BPA matter involving significant water and power resources. It also addresses many of the same issues that the Recommendations identify as concerns, and therefore may serve as a model for resolution of those issues in the post-2024 CRT.
The NTSA provides the BPA and BC Hydro each have continuing access to 1.5 MAF of Mica's active storage, and BC Hydro may make available to BPA an additional 1 MAF from the Mica reservoir at its discretion. Except for provisions addressing dry years, all transactions are by mutual agreement and are coordinated on a weekly basis. Canada receives an equitable share of the downstream energy created by coordinated use of Non-Treaty Storage, with value determined by referenced to published energy price indices for the Mid-Columbia energy trading hub. BPA has used the added flexibility provided by the NTSA to benefit, for example, fisheries in the U.S., and to enhance power production at U.S. hydroelectric facilities.
September 16 marks a key juncture in the history of the Columbia River and surrounding regions. That date marks the opening of a process that is likely to result in substantial changes to the bi-national framework that has successfully governed the Columbia River for the last half-century. September 16 therefore represents a literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the future of the River and the region through modernization of the CRT. The Recommendations developed by the two sides document major differences on a range of important issues. Over the long course of CRT negotiation and implementation, however, both sides have shown a remarkable capacity for identifying creative approaches to resolving differences and creating mutual benefits. There is good reason to believe this spirit of creative problem solving can help bridge the gaps between the two sides. Whether and how these solutions are developed will have profound and long-lasting impacts on the River, its resources, and the millions of people who depend on those resources.
Seventh Circuit Rejects FERC's Cost-Spreading Mechanism for High-Voltage Transmission, Raising Questions for the Pacific Northwest
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit once again rejected a cost-spreading mechanism developed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") for high-voltage transmission facilities constructed in the PJM Interconnection. While PJM is located on the opposite coast, the Seventh Circuit's decision may nonetheless have important implications for transmission construction here in the Pacific Northwest.
The basic problem FERC has wrestled with is that utilities in the eastern end of PJM's footprint in the heavily-populated mid-Atlantic region will benefit disproportionately from construction of high-voltage transmission. By contrast, utilities in the western portion of PJM will receive only modest benefits from high-voltage transmission construction, which is currently driven largely by the need to improve reliability in the east. FERC has been wrestling with this problem for more than seven years, with final resolution likely several years away. In the Northwest, the problem is a mirror image of PJM -- congestion and reliability problems are largely in population centers along the West Coast, meaning that high-voltage transmission upgrades are likely to disproportionately benefit utilities serving these areas.
At its monthly meeting yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") approved tariffs that will allow the western Energy Imbalance Market ("EIM") to open as planned on October 1, 2014. The EIM is designed to allow economic dispatch at five-minute intervals of energy balancing resources in the footprint of participating utilities. The EIM is one of a number of initiatives undertaken by utilities in the West to address the problems created by the rapid expansion of non-dispatchable wind and solar resources. Because these resources produce output that can be both highly variable and unpredictable, they have created increasing demand for balancing resources that can respond rapidly to changes in generation output to maintain the balance between generation supply and electric demand necessary for reliable operation of the electric system.
Yesterday's FERC orders approve the EIM proposed jointly by PacifiCorp and the California Independent System Operator ("Cal-ISO"). The PacifiCorp-ISO EIM will employ the Cal-ISO's existing five-minute market mechanism to dispatch balancing resources in the EIM's footprint. Initially, the EIM will dispatch resources within California, as well as within the two balancing authorities operated by PacifiCorp, which are centered on its service territories in the Pacific Northwest and Utah. Participation in the EIM is voluntary and the system is designed to allow expansion through addition of new utility participants.
In a proposal that should clarify federal rules concern access to generator tie-lines, and therefore provide assurance to project developers and their financial backers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") at last week's monthly meeting proposed new rules to govern third-party access to such tie-lines. While at first blush, this issue may seem obscure, it has far-reaching consequences for both open access to and investment in the nation's electric system. The proposed rule also clarifies how FERC will reconcile two of its most important policy goals -- investment in new generation resources and open access to the nation's transmission grid.
The proposed rules are important because generator tie-lines often cover hundreds of miles and operate at extremely high voltages, especially when delivering power from generation resources located in remote, rural areas that otherwise have limited access to the backbone transmission grid. The proposed rules are therefore particularly important for wind generation and utility-scale solar, where the best resources are often located far from existing transmission lines. FERC's proposal notes several cases where tie-lines to link, for example, large wind generation projects to the grid span hundreds of miles and operate at voltages as high as 345-kV, and therefore look much like backbone transmission assets.
In a ruling with potentially far-reaching consequences for state-level attempts to regulate greenhouse gases, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on April 18 issued a ruling striking down key elements of Minnesota's Next Generation Energy Act ("NGEA"). For the Pacific Northwest, in particular, the ruling could complicate efforts by Washington, Oregon, and California to limit "coal by wires" -- the importation of coal-generated electricity from plants located in states like Montana and Arizona. State of North Dakota et al. v. Heydinger et al., No. 11-cv-3232 (SRN/SER) (issued April 18, 2014).
Passed by Minnesota's legislature in 2007, the NGEA is aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of electricity consumed in the state. The statute prohibits new power plants within Minnesota that "would contribute to state power sector emissions." To address the "coal by wires" problem, the statute also broadly prohibits importing power generated outside Minnesota if that generation "would contribute to statewide power sector carbon dioxide emissions," and also prohibits long-term power purchase contracts from facilities larger than 50 MW that would contribute to Minnesota's power sector carbon dioxide emissions.
Texas Supreme Court Blows Away Wind Generator Claims, Finds Contracts Assigned Risk of Transmission Congestion to Generators
Transmission congestion between the wind-rich plans of western Texas and population centers to the east frequently force curtailment of deliveries of electricity from Texas wind farms. In a contract dispute worth tens of millions of dollars, the Supreme Court of Texas recently concluded that wind energy producer FPL Energy assumed the risk of transmission curtailments and therefore must pay contractual damages for delivery failures caused in large part by transmission curtailments. The decision, which turns on specific language addressing transmission curtailments in a contractual "Uncontrollable Forces" clause, once again underscores the peculiar importance of such clauses in energy contracts.
The Court also disallowed a lower court's $29 million judgment against FPL Energy under the liquidated damages provisions of the relevant contracts. The Court found that the liquidated damages clause was intended to compensate the purchaser for undelivered Renewable Energy Credits ("RECs"). The clause provided for recovery of $50 per each undelivered REC, an amount based on the penalty to be paid by utilities in Texas if they do not purchase enough RECs or renewable energy to satisfy the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard. The Court concluded that the liquidated damages provision crossed the line from an acceptable estimate of actual contract damages to an unacceptable contractual penalty for breach because it assumed TXU would pay the $50 penalty rate for all RECs not delivered, but in fact the Texas regulatory scheme excuses compliance for any RECs not delivered because of transmission constraints or curtailments. As a result, the liquidated damages provision required FPL Energy to pay approximately $29 million, whereas the actual losses suffered because the RECs were not delivered was only about $6 million, possibly less. Thus, there is an "unacceptable disparity" between the results of the liquidated damages provision and the actual damages incurred by TXU as a result of FPL's failure to deliver.
Just before 1 a.m. on April 16, 2013, as-yet unidentified assailants launched an attack on the Metcalf substation in Silicon Valley. The attack lasted nearly an hour, disabling ten high-voltage transformers and three high-voltage transformer banks. Occurring just hours after the Boston Marathon bombings, the attack garnered little press coverage at the time and, as a federal investigation dragged on, details were slow to emerge. Beginning with an article published in Foreign Policy magazine in late 2013, information suggesting that the attack may have been the work of terrorists rather than vandals has started to come to light. In response to these revelations, group of four U.S. Senators today sent a letter to federal regulators calling for swift action to address the threat.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published a long article providing many details of the attack. In the article, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff noted several pieces of evidence suggesting that the attack was carefully orchestrated. For example, before the attack began, someone lifted a large cover off an underground vault and cut communications cables, knocking out communications in the area around the substation and interfering with emergency response. More than 100 empty shell cases, likely from AK-47 assault rifles, were found in the area around the substation. None had fingerprints and military experts found small piles of rocks that may have been left by an advance scout to mark the best vantage points for the attack. The number of shell cases and the fact that the vault cover probably could not have been lifted by a single person suggest that multiple individuals were involved in the attack. Many of these details were corroborated in subsequent accounts from media outlets such as National Public Radio and Bay Area newspapers.
As we discussed last summer, the expansion of renewable energy generation, especially wind generation, has produced an escalating conflict between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") and several Western states over the application of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act ("PURPA"). In recent months, at least one major conflict has been resolved, while other conflicts continue to develop. While future developments may depend upon whether newly-nominated FERC Chairman Norman Bay adopts the aggressive enforcement policy of his predecessor, Jon Wellinghoff, recent action provides some hints as to the future legal landscape.
PURPA is a 1978 law that, among other requirements, mandates that utilities purchase power produced by smaller renewable generators. Recent conflicts have arisen over PURPA's basic mandate, which requires utilities to purchase power from PURPA-eligible generators, called "Qualifying Facilities" or "QFs", at avoided-cost rates. Conflicts have also arisen from efforts to square PURPA with recent industry developments, such as ownership of Renewable Energy Credits and integration of variable renewable resources..
The U.S. military is making substantial progress toward its goals of acquiring 3 GW of renewable energy by 2025, substantially reducing energy use, and improving the reliability of power delivery to military bases, according to a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The progress attained so far demonstrates the seriousness of the military's commitment to renewable energy, energy conservation, and reliability, and confirms that the Department of Defense ("DOD") energy initiatives represent a huge opportunity for private-sector energy developers.
The DOD initiatives arise from both Congressional mandates requiring increased use of renewable fuels and from recognition within the armed services that continued reliance on fossil fuels and an aging electric infrastructure creates unacceptable security vulnerabilities. For example, the Defense Science Board's influential 2008 report, "More Fight, Less Fuel," identified the military's continued reliance on fossil fuels, and the fragile supply lines associated with that dependence, as a major security problem for military operations around the world. "Unleashing the tether" that ties troops to vulnerable fuel supplies therefore became a major strategic objective. Similarly, the report concluded that serious security risks arise from the dependence of U.S. military bases on an aging electricity infrastructure that exposes bases to increasingly frequent power outages.
Please join us on January 13 and 14, 2014, for the 19th Annual Conference on Buying and Selling Electric Power in the West. The conference brings together leading energy attorneys, expert consultants, industry executives, government officials, and many others to discuss cutting-edge issues affecting the electric industry in the West.
On January 14, Eric Christensen, Chairman of GTH's Energy, Telecommunications and Utilities practice group will present a lecture on Columbia River Treaty, the current status of the treaty, and how future changes are likely to affect electric power production and transmission in the Pacific Northwest.
We look forward to seeing you there.
The California Independent System Operator's ("Cal-ISO") Board of Governors recently voted to move forward with a proposed Energy Imbalance Market ("EIM"), with the aim of encouraging Balancing Authority Areas ("BAAs") from across the West to participate in real-time energy imbalance market operated by the ISO. The market design approved by the Cal-ISO Board of Governors is scheduled to begin operation in October 2014. Consistent with an earlier agreement, PacifiCorp and the Cal-ISO would be the initial participants, but the market design approved last week is meant encourage the West's other BAAs to join the EIM. Ultimately, the aim is to create optimal real-time dispatch of generation resources across the EIM footprint, and thereby to reduce dispatch costs and improve the region's ability to integrate variable renewable resources like wind and solar into the electric system.
Under the Cal-ISO's plan, the EIM will be integrated into the Cal-ISO's real-time market. The ISO is now in the process of implementing a real-time market featuring 15-minute scheduling and five-minute dispatch. This market is being developed in response to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's ("FERC") Order No. 764, which, among other measures, required adoption of 15-minute scheduling as a means to improve integration variable renewable resources such as wind and solar. The ISO plans to implement this new market structure in the spring of 2014, and will use this structure as the basis of the EIM. Balancing Authorities participating in the EIM will then be able to voluntarily offer resources into the EIM and the ISO will use its 15-minute scheduling and five-minute dispatch programs to efficiently dispatch balancing resources and transfers between balancing authorities across the EIM/ISO footprint. Participants will also submit schedules 75 minutes before the operating hour. These will serve as the load forecast and the base schedule against which balancing resources will be dispatched.
Okanagan Odyssey Goes On: Washington Supreme Court to Review Case Involving Condemnation of State Lands for Transmission Right of Way
The long litigation road walked by Okanogan County PUD to build a short transmission line has just gotten a bit longer. On November 7, the Washington Supreme Court granted review of a Court of Appeals decision concluding that Washington's Public Utility Districts have statutory authority to condemn state school lands if those lands have not been withdrawn for a particular purpose. As explained here, this is the latest development in Okanagan PUD's attempt to build a segment of lower-voltage transmission line covering roughly 35 miles between Pateros and Twisp. The PUD started planning the line in 1996 in order to maintain reliable electric service in Okanogan County.
The Supreme Court will review the Appeals Court's determination that Washington's PUD statute allows Okanogan PUD to condemn state school trust lands by authorizing PUDs to "condemn . . . public and private property . . . including . . . school lands" for transmission lines and other facilities "necessary or convenient" for the PUD to carry out its statutory purposes and the Department of Natural Resource's countervailing argument, based on its own statute, that school trust lands are not subject to condemnation. The question is important not just to PUDs, but also to other Washington municipalities such as cities, towns, and Port Districts, all of which have similar statutory condemnation authority. The Court will hear oral argument in late February of 2014, with a decision likely following several months thereafter.
If you have any questions about the Court of Appeals opinion discussed in this post, the Washington PUD statutes, condemnation, or Washington real property law, please contact a member of GTH's Energy, Telecommunications, and Utilities practice group or Environment & Natural Resources practice group. These practice groups are consistently recognized as among the best, both nationally and in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, our Real Estate & Land Use practice group is recognized as one of the region's best and our partner Warren Daheim, who specializes in condemnation and eminent domain matters, was recently recognized as the best lawyer in the South Puget Sound region by South Sound Magazine.
Last week, the governors of the three West Coast states and the Premier of British Columbia signed the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. While not legally binding, the Action Plan is important because it lays out a regional framework on climate and energy policy that is likely to be reflected in specific legislation and other measures adopted in each of the four jurisdictions, as well as in coordinated actions among the jurisdictions. Notably, the Pacific Coast regional economy produces a combined U.S.$2.8 trillion in GDP, making it the world's fifth largest economy when considered as a unit. Because the Action Plan charts a course for the future of this huge economy, the Plan is worthy of careful attention.
Issued under the auspices of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, the Action Plan lays out a series of policy goals in three areas, including climate policy, clean transportation, and clean energy infrastructure. Among these policy goals, several are particularly noteworthy: