Recently in electric transmission Category

Texas Supreme Court Blows Away Wind Generator Claims, Finds Contracts Assigned Risk of Transmission Congestion to Generators

April 2, 2014

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.

Continue reading "Texas Supreme Court Blows Away Wind Generator Claims, Finds Contracts Assigned Risk of Transmission Congestion to Generators" »

Transmission Terrorism: As Details of Substation Attack Come to Light, Senators Call for Action

February 7, 2014

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.

Continue reading "Transmission Terrorism: As Details of Substation Attack Come to Light, Senators Call for Action" »

Western PURPA War Update: Retreats, Advances, But Little Clarity

February 4, 2014

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..

Continue reading "Western PURPA War Update: Retreats, Advances, But Little Clarity" »

Pew Study Documents Progress in Military Renewables, Reliability and Efficiency Efforts

January 28, 2014

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.

Continue reading "Pew Study Documents Progress in Military Renewables, Reliability and Efficiency Efforts" »

Eric Christensen to Speak at 19th Annual Buying & Selling Electric Power Conference

January 7, 2014

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.

With ISO Vote, Energy Imbalance Market Begins to Take Shape

November 24, 2013

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.

Continue reading "With ISO Vote, Energy Imbalance Market Begins to Take Shape" »

Okanagan Odyssey Goes On: Washington Supreme Court to Review Case Involving Condemnation of State Lands for Transmission Right of Way

November 12, 2013

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.

Pacific Coast Action Plan Sets Framework for Regional Climate and Energy Action

November 7, 2013

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:

Continue reading "Pacific Coast Action Plan Sets Framework for Regional Climate and Energy Action " »

Will Protectionism Foil California's Increased RPS Mandate?

September 23, 2013

Under AB 327, passed this month by the California legislature, California has cleared the way to ratchet up its aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard ("RPS") mandate beyond the 33% it already requires. But the legislature did nothing to address the most troubling aspect of California's RPS program, the "Portfolio Content Categories" -- commonly referred to as "buckets" -- which systematically favor in-state renewable resources over out-of-state resources. A recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory ("NREL") shows, however, that California is rapidly running out of easily-developed in-state resources. It is therefore becoming increasingly clear that, unless California lowers the wall it has erected around its renewable energy market, it will either be unable to meet its ambitious renewable energy goals or else meeting those goals will come at an exorbitant cost to the state's consumers.

On the other hand, if California lowers or eliminates barriers to outside resources, access to huge and highly desirable resources in other parts of the West will allow California to achieve its ambitious climate and renewable energy goals in the most economically efficient manner. Even if California's legislature is unwilling to lower these barriers voluntarily, recent decisions from the federal courts demonstrate that its protectionist policies can be overcome through a legal challenge under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Continue reading "Will Protectionism Foil California's Increased RPS Mandate?" »

Feds Propose Simplified Transmission Siting Process

September 5, 2013

The U.S. Department of Energy recently requested comment on a proposed "Integrated Inter-Agency Preapplication Process" for electric transmission projects that may simplify the notoriously difficult transmission siting process. If adopted as proposed in the DOE draft, the IPP would create a new opportunity for transmission project sponsors to meet with federal regulators and interest groups prior to formally submitting a transmission proposal in order to identify and avoid issues that have the potential to slow or stop a proposal.

The draft proposal envisions a series of four meetings in which a project proponent would meet with federal regulators with the aim of identifying potential constraints on the proposed route arising from environmental considerations, cultural and historical resources, military operations, protected areas, and similar considerations. The process would also identify alternative routes that could avoid or minimize such conflicts. In additional, the process would lay the groundwork for future permits by, for example, identifying the kinds of information the project proponent will need to provide and assigning the lead agency for NEPA evaulation and consultation under the National Historical Preservation Act.

Continue reading "Feds Propose Simplified Transmission Siting Process" »

Pacific Northwest Could Be Ground Zero In Fight Over FERC Order No. 1000 Authority

July 26, 2013

Political and legal battle lines have now been drawn around implementation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's ("FERC") Order No. 1000 in the Pacific Northwest. The outcome of these battles will go far toward defining the extent to which FERC can exert its authority in this region and others where public power predominates. Indeed, absent deft handling of the issues by FERC, collapse of the Order No. 1000 process in the region appears to be a real possibility.

As we have described in earlier posts, Order No. 1000 is a major FERC initiative aimed at opening the market for transmission development to new players and new sources of investment. To accomplish this goal, Order No. 1000 requires several changes to regional transmission planning and cost allocation. For example, FERC-jurisdictional transmission utilities are required to open regional transmission planning processes to non-incumbents, to improve transmission planning between regions, to eliminate the right of first refusal for incumbent utilities to construct transmission within their service areas, and to create a mechanism for allocation of the costs of transmission projects chosen in the regional transmission planning process. While other elements in Order No. 1000 have provoked little controversy in the Pacific Northwest, the mandatory cost allocation requirement has become a serious point of contention.

Continue reading "Pacific Northwest Could Be Ground Zero In Fight Over FERC Order No. 1000 Authority" »

As Decision Day for the Columbia River Treaty Looms, BPA and Corps Seek Comments On Draft Recommendations

July 3, 2013

As previously discussed here, the impending decision about whether to seek termination or renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty next year carries with it enormous long-term implications for the Pacific Northwest and the region's power industry. In preparation for this decision, the "U.S. Entity" -- Treaty-speak for the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which jointly administer the Treaty on behalf of the U.S. -- is seeking comments by August 16 on the its "Working Draft of a Regional Recommendation: Improving the Columbia River Treaty Post-2024", which was released late last month.

The Working Draft Recommendation is primarily the product of input from the "Sovereign Review Team," composed of representatives from the four Columbia Basin states, eleven federal agencies, and fifteen Native American tribes. Those entities have not yet reached full agreement, so the Draft remains a work in progress. The comments the U.S. Entity solicited will be part of an ongoing process of refining the recommendations that will be made by the U.S. Entity to the Department of State in December 2013. Ultimately, the Department of State will be responsible for terminating or renegotiating the Treaty.

Continue reading "As Decision Day for the Columbia River Treaty Looms, BPA and Corps Seek Comments On Draft Recommendations" »

Binz There, Done That? Obama FERC Nominee Likely to Stay The Course on Renewables, But Changes in Regulatory Policy May Be In the Offing

July 2, 2013

On June 27, President Obama nominated Ron Binz to replace Jon Wellinghoff as Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC"). Mr. Binz's track record as Chair of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission suggests that his priorities will be very similar to Chairman Wellinghoff's. That is, we can expect FERC will continue to pursue policies favoring the deployment and integration of renewable energy resources and the construction of high-voltage transmission facilities to support delivery of utility-scale renewables. Mr. Binz's more recent experience as an industry consultant suggests, in addition, that he may focus on the fundamentals of the regulatory system and how the regulatory system can be rationalized in the face of rapid technological change in the industry.

Mr. Binz is a long-time energy industry professional, but it is likely that the policies he advocated during his four-year tenure as Chairman of the Colorado PUC will dominate the political headlines during his nomination process. In that capacity, he helped broker a compromise with Xcel Energy, Inc. to shutter coal-fired generation and promoted action on climate change, renewable portfolio standards, and other policies designed to promote renewable energy and transition away from traditional fossil sources. Given the Obama Administration's recent focus on climate change, and its long-time emphasis on promoting renewable energy, it is not surprising to see a FERC nominee with these priorities.

Continue reading "Binz There, Done That? Obama FERC Nominee Likely to Stay The Course on Renewables, But Changes in Regulatory Policy May Be In the Offing" »

Casting A Constitutional Cloud On In-State Renewable Preferences, Seventh Circuit Upholds Transmission Cost-Spreading

June 12, 2013

In a decision with important implications for both renewable energy and transmission developers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit last week largely upheld a cost-spreading mechanism developed by the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator ("MISO") to encourage expansion of high-voltage transmission facilities. Written by the renowned Judge Richard Posner, the decision (Illinois Commerce Commission v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 7th Cir. Docket Nos. 11-3421 et al., issued June 7, 2013) may in time be most remembered for lighting the fuse that ultimately brought down the many state renewable energy policies that artificially favor in-state renewable producers at the expense out-of-state producers.

The holding is a response to Michigan's argument that it does not benefit from the high-voltage transmission lines favored by the MISO policy. Because its Renewable Portfolio Standard does not allow Michigan utilities to count out-of-state renewables toward meeting the requirement that they obtain ten percent of their power from renewables by 2015, improving transmission for out-of-state renewables does not benefit Michigan ratepayers. Thus, Michigan argued, it should not be required to bear a share of the cost of these facilities. Judge Posner rejected this argument in strikingly plain terms: "Michigan cannot, without violating the commerce clause of Article I of the Constitution, discriminate against out-of-state renewable energy." This holding threatens to unravel state laws from California to Massachusetts that, in various ways, artificially favor in-state renewable producers over out-of-state producers.

Continue reading "Casting A Constitutional Cloud On In-State Renewable Preferences, Seventh Circuit Upholds Transmission Cost-Spreading" »

"EIM, RTOs, and FERC Jurisdiction: Does Participation in a Regional Energy Imbalance Market Subject Public Power to FERC Jurisdiction?": Eric Christensen Publishes Article in May NWPPA Bulletin

May 15, 2013

We're proud to announce that GTH partner Eric Christensen penned the cover story in the May 2013 issue of the Northwest Public Power Association Bulletin. Here is the text of the article:

EIM, RTOs, AND FERC JURISDICTION:

Does Participation in a Regional Energy Imbalance Market
Subject Public Power to FERC Jurisdiction?

By Eric Christensen, Partner Gordon Thomas Honeywell


The rapid rise of variable renewable resources, especially wind power, has put increasing pressure on the West's electric system to balance the rapidly fluctuating output often produced by these resources. In response, a regional Energy Imbalance Market ("EIM") is now under active consideration. The EIM would allow Balancing Area Authorities ("BAAs") to obtain balancing reserves from across a broad region, in theory allowing more economic and reliable operation of the region's balancing capacity. Public power has greeted EIM with considerable skepticism, observing that Regional Transmission Organizations ("RTOs") and other "organized markets" have often failed to produce expected benefits.

Public power is equally concerned that an EIM could subject public power systems to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") jurisdiction. Centralized control by FERC is, of course, the antithesis of local control, one of public power's keystone values. FERC's recent tendency to pursue its jurisdiction aggressively on behalf of renewable producers heightens this concern. For example, FERC in 2011 for the first time asserted its "FERC-lite" jurisdiction, invalidating the Bonneville Power Administration's approach to managing periods of excess wind generation.
As this article explains, public power is right to be concerned that an EIM could result in both expanded FERC jurisdiction and a broader push toward a West-wide RTO. Both risks, however, can be mitigated by insisting on specific structures and conditions for EIM participation.

Relevant Precedents: FERC Jurisdiction Over Consumer-Owned Utilities Operating in Organized Markets

In the industry's first few decades, federal jurisdiction was of little concern to public power. Public power operated in its own sphere, governed by elected representatives of the citizens it serves, generally free from either state or federal rate regulation. With increasing integration of the industry and regulatory restructuring, these jurisdictional lines have blurred. In some cases, Congress added new statutory authority giving FERC jurisdiction over specific aspects of consumer-owned systems. In other cases, FERC leveraged its existing statutory authority. For example, to enforce its "open access" transmission regime, FERC required consumer-owned transmission systems to adopt "Safe Harbor" open access tariffs so that they could obtain "reciprocal" access to IOU-owned transmission facilities.

An examination of recent precedents from Western RTOs and cooperative transmission ventures demonstrates that there is some basis for concern that participation in an EIM could subject a consumer-owned utility to new FERC jurisdiction. Perhaps most notoriously, after the meltdown of Western power markets in 2000-01, FERC attempted to force public power entities that had participated in the California ISO and PX markets to disgorge refunds. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit rejected those attempts, concluding that the Federal Power Act plainly prohibits FERC from exercising its refund authority over public power entities. The Court, however, left the door open for California to pursue refunds in court. This opening has proved costly for public power. For example, in April, the U.S. Court of Claims allowed California's contract-based lawsuit against the Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA") to move forward. This is a particularly bitter pill for Northwest public power ratepayers, many of whom suffered greatly from California's missteps during the 2000-01 market meltdown and were generally denied relief by FERC. They now face the prospect of paying again for California's mistakes, this time through inflated BPA rates.

The Courts have also concluded that consumer-owned utilities participating in the California Independent System Operator ("ISO") may be subject to just-and-reasonable rate regulation where the rates charged by the consumer-owned utility affect the FERC-jurisdictional rates charged by the ISO. When the City of Vernon, California's municipal utility joined the ISO, the rates charged by Vernon for ISO-administered access to Vernon's transmission system became an element of the transmission rates charged by the ISO. FERC concluded that, because Vernon's transmission rates were an element of the ISO's transmission rates, Vernon's rates must be subject to FERC oversight to ensure that the resulting transmission rates charged by the ISO are just and reasonable. After extended litigation, the Ninth Circuit ultimately upheld this result.
FERC has asserted a similar form of jurisdiction over public power entities in other regions, as well. For example, where Basin Electric Cooperative entered into a joint-use transmission arrangement with a FERC-jurisdictional IOU, FERC asserted jurisdiction to review Basin's transmission rates because Basin's rates are a component of the rates charged by the joint-use system.

On the other hand, the courts have flatly rejected FERC attempts to force changes in the management structure of the RTOs and ISOs. Following the 2000-01 crisis, FERC concluded that the ISO's management structure was partly to blame for market dysfunctions, and attempted to force a change in the composition of the ISO Board. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected FERC's assertion of authority. Of particular interest, the Court of Appeals rejected FERC's claim that its authority to regulate the "practices" of jurisdictional utilities allows FERC to order specific changes in the management of those utilities. FERC's reading of the statute, the Court concluded, ignores the surrounding statutory language, which is aimed at providing FERC with authority to regulate rates, not every aspect of utility operations. Thus, the Court reasoned, FERC can regulate utility "practices" only if they are directly connected with the utility's rates. Because there was no clear connection between the structure of the ISO's board and the rates it charged, the Court concluded, FERC's attempt to dictate the structure of the ISO's governing board exceeded its statutory authority.
In summary, the participation of consumer-owned utilities in "organized markets" such as the California ISO is a mixed bag. FERC has on a number of occasions asserted jurisdiction over consumer-owned utilities participating in ISOs or RTOs. And, while the Courts have rejected some of these assertions, they have upheld others. Consumer-owned utilities contemplating participation in the EIM are therefore well-advised to exercise caution if they wish to avoid becoming subject to increased FERC jurisdiction.

Limiting FERC Jurisdiction in an EIM
While exposure to FERC jurisdiction is a valid concern, expanding FERC jurisdiction need not follow inevitably from a decision to participate in the EIM. For example, a number of consumer-owned utilities participate along with FERC-jurisdictional IOUs in regional transmission bodies such as ColumbiaGrid and WestConnect. FERC precedent regarding these and similar regional ventures demonstrate that, with appropriate safeguards, FERC's assertion of jurisdiction over consumer-owned participants can be limited.

Such safeguards include:

Defining off-ramps for consumer-owned utilities. Perhaps the best safeguard for consumer-owned utilities is a clear "off-ramp," allowing them to terminate their participation in EIM if FERC attempts to extend its jurisdiction over them. For example, WestConnect proposed a transmission pilot project aimed at reducing the "pancaking" of transmission rates across the systems of its members, which included both jurisdictional IOUs and non-jurisdictional co-ops and consumer-owned utilities. FERC approved an agreement allowing participants to withdraw at any time prior to the start-up of the pilot, at any time after start-up as a result of adverse regulatory action, and after ninety days' notice for any other reason occurring after start-up. Similarly, the Nebraska Public Power District ("NPPD") and Omaha Public Power District ("OPPD") in the Southwest Power Pool are authorized to withdraw from the Southwest Power Pool if FERC does not accept their rates or transmission revenue requirements. The ability to withdraw from the organization administering EIM in response to an unjustified claim of FERC jurisdiction gives consumer-owned participants powerful leverage to prevent FERC from overstepping its bounds.

De-coupling jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional rates. It may be possible to structure an EIM so that the rates paid to non-jurisdictional utilities remain separate and distinct from the rates paid to FERC-jurisdictional IOUs. For example, before the WestConnect transmission pilot discussed above went into effect, FERC declared that the rates charged by non-jurisdictional utilities were not subject to FERC review because they did not affect rates charged by jurisdictional IOUs and additional safeguards, such as rate caps, were in place to ensure that jurisdictional rates remain just and reasonable. Similarly, FERC has approved participation of NPPD and OPPD in the Southwest Power Pool subject to agreements that explicitly limit FERC's authority to review the NPPD's and OPPD's rates or revenue requirements. As these examples demonstrate, it may be possible to limit FERC jurisdiction by separating EIM rates paid to non-jurisdictional utilities from rates paid to jurisdictional utilities, or by insisting upon specific contractual limits on FERC jurisdiction over public power.

De-coupling the EIM market from transmission rates. The EIM should be limited to the specific function of allowing regional exchange of regulating reserves and other sub-hourly products. It should not operate a centrally-administered transmission market. Limiting the EIM's functions in this manner will prevent FERC from attempting to leverage its jurisdiction over interstate transmission.

Recognizing public power authorities. The authority of public power governing bodies to set their own rates and policies is, of course, a cornerstone of the public power movement. Similarly, consumer-owned utilities operate under unique limitations arising from, for example, state law and from federal rules governing municipal bonds. Consumer-owned utilities participating in the EIM should insist on language in governing agreements that will prevent the actions of the EIM from violating state law, putting tax-exempt financing at risk, or displacing the basic functions of publicly-elected governing bodies. Such mechanisms not only assure consumer-owned utilities that they are operating within the boundaries of existing law, but also serve to limit FERC jurisdiction by requiring FERC to abide by the legal limits faced by consumer-owned utilities.

It is important to recognize that, in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress granted FERC new refund authority over consumer-owned utilities. This new authority allows FERC to order refunds from consumer-owned utilities for short-term sales (sales for periods of less than one month) if the sales are "through an organized market in which the rates for sale are established by [FERC]-approved tariff (rather than by contract)" and the sale violates that tariff. FERC has yet to provide any clear guidance as to the meaning of this new authority. Hence, consumer-owned entities contemplating participation in an EIM must recognize the existence of the new authority, devise strategies for limiting the authority, and consider the possibility that their short-term sales on the EIM could be subject to FERC-ordered refunds.

Limiting EIM Expansion
As with FERC jurisdiction, public power is rightly concerned that, even if an EIM is wise, it could pave the way for a full-fledged RTO, with its attendant costs, complications, and market manipulation risks. In the same way that public power participants in an EIM should insist on limits to FERC jurisdiction, they should also insist on limits that prevent EIM from becoming a "slippery slope" to a West-wide RTO.

Two considerations are key. First, there is no reason that the EIM itself should be considered an RTO. On the contrary, if the functions of the EIM are strictly limited to its core mission, it would not be an RTO because it would not operate all the functions of an RTO. Rather, it would be more like ColumbiaGrid or WestConnect, organizations which perform limited transmission functions but are neither registered as an RTO nor considered to be an RTO by FERC.

Second, the governing documents of EIM should either prohibit expansion of the organization or else require a supermajority to move forward with any new functions. For example, ColumbiaGrid's governing documents allow it to take on new functions only with a super-majority vote of its members. Such a supermajority requirement can prevent movement toward in RTO unless a strong regional consensus, which necessarily must include public power, develops in favor of RTOs.

Conclusion
Public power has good cause to be concerned that participation in an EIM could result in expanded FERC jurisdiction over consumer-owned utilities and could be a step toward a West-wide RTO. These are not inevitable consequences of an EIM, however, and a number of proven safeguards are available to prevent these outcomes if consumer-owned utilities elect to participate in the EIM.

(Note: While the article is officially the "Cover Story" of the May NWPPA Bulletin, the photo on the cover is in fact a vendor from NWPPA's recent Engineering and Operations Conference. This is because, despite a valiant effort, NWPPA's editors could not find a compelling graphic concerning the EIM or FERC jurisdiction.)