Recently in energy transactions Category

FERC Approves Energy Imbalance Market Tariffs, Paving Way for October Start-Up

June 20, 2014

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.

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FERC Proposes To Clarify Open Access Obligations for Owners of Generator Tie Lines

May 19, 2014

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.

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Complicating "Coal By Wires" Regulation, Minnesota Court Strikes Down Greenhouse Gas Regulation

April 21, 2014

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.

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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.

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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..

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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.

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"The California ISO-PacifiCorp Energy Imbalance Market Experiment: Can Public Power Avoid Assimilation?" Eric Christensen Publishes Article in January NWPPA Bulletin

January 28, 2014

We're proud to announce that GTH partner Eric Christensen has published an article in the January 2014 Northwest Public Power Association Bulletin. The article is available electronically here. We've inserted the text below:

Regulatory Update: The California ISO-PacifiCorp Energy Imbalance Market Experiment: Can Public Power Avoid Assimilation?
By Eric Christensen, Partner Gordon Thomas Honeywell

PacifiCorp and the California ISO are now cooperating to create an Energy Imbalance Market ("EIM") encompassing their collective service territories, which stretch from Utah to Southern California. For public power managers who follow "Star Trek", this development bring visions of the Borg, perhaps the most frightening foe dreamed up by the imaginative writers of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The Borg is a half-technological, half-biological alien race with a collective hive-mind. With machine-like implacability, the Borg assimilates all other intelligent species, turning them into cyborgs without independent thought. When the heroic Captain Picard is captured and assimilated, and programmed to instruct the human race "you will be assimilated, resistance is futile," all hope appears lost. Development of the EIM forces public power to consider whether assimilation into the ISO and its mind-numbingly complex system of regulations and "structured" markets, is inevitable, whether resistance is futile, and what can be done to protect core public power values.

THE PACIFICORP-ISO PROPOSAL
As envisioned in the PacifiCorp-ISO scheme, the EIM would create a short-term market for balancing and regulating reserves, scheduled every 15 minutes and dispatched at 5-minute intervals. The core functions of the EIM would be provided by the ISO's automated 15-minute market. Dispatch would be optimized across the footprint of the Balancing Area Authorities ("BAAs") participating in the EIM, principally as a means of optimizing the use of balancing reserves to integrate wind generation and other intermittent resources. The PacifiCorp-ISO EIM is designed to allow other BAAs to easily join, with reduced balancing costs held out as an incentive. It is almost certain that NV Energy, the IOU serving Nevada, will join the EIM once regulators approve its sale to Warren Buffet's business empire, making it part of the same corporate family as PacifiCorp. It is easy to anticipate that other BAAs in the West might follow suit. The assimilation of BAAs across the West makes the assimilation of public power seem all the more inevitable.

It now appears nearly certain we will see some form of EIM in the West. Public power should take proactive steps to prevent assimilation, to achieve a peaceful co-existence with the EIM, and, ideally, to move the EIM in a direction that benefits public power. To achieve these goals, public power will need to engage actively in the ongoing PacifiCorp-ISO process and the parallel Northwest Power Pool process. Public power should also consider creative structural solutions that can both insulate us from the problems of an EIM and allow us greater control of our own destiny.

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS FOR PUBLIC POWER
Assimilation by the ISO creates a number of problems for public power. These include, for example, "mission creep," the concern that an EIM would establish a beachhead for a much intrusive entity, such as a west-wide RTO long opposed by public power. Similarly, there is concern that the EIM will lead toward substantially increased regulation by the Federal Energy Commission ("FERC"), particularly over the Bonneville Power Administration.

Two examples demonstrate the potential problems. First, Southern California public power entities operating within the California ISO have been subject to FERC regulation of their transmission rates where it was adjudged that their rates were an element of the ISO's FERC-jurisdictional rates. Second, attempts by both Maryland and New Jersey to deal with the inadequacies of the PJM market, which lacks a coherent mechanism for load-serving entities to secure long-term power supplies, have recently been struck down by federal courts as inconsistent with FERC's exclusive jurisdiction over the wholesale power market. Thus, experience with other RTO/ISO markets suggests that expansion of the EIM to a west-side RTO could create both greater FERC jurisdiction over western public power entities and undermine the ability of public power to secure long-term power supplies. These outcomes are, of course, antithetical to public power's core value of local control and its primary mission of assuring reliable and economical power to public power customer-owners.

The problem of expanded FERC jurisdiction is, in light of recent events, a particular concern with respect to Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA"). If BPA joins the EIM as an active participant, FERC may well assert that the rates it charges for power dispatched into the EIM are a component of FERC-jurisdictional wholesale rates charged by the EIM. This would subject BPA to greater FERC jurisdiction, shifting the focus of control over the agency toward Washington, DC, and away from the Pacific Northwest. And it may provide a lever for FERC to exert greater pressure on BPA to move toward a west-wide RTO.

As discussed in my May 2013 Bulletin article, the risks of mission creep and expanded FERC jurisdiction can be limited by including specific safeguards in the documents governing the EIM. In this article, I propose additional safeguards, including a publics-only EIM and additional measures that should be included in the EIM's governing documents.

STRUCTURAL SOLUTION: A PUBLICS-ONLY EIM
By moving aggressively to create its own EIM with membership limited to public power entities, public power can create a structural mechanism to limit both damaging proposals from the EIM and FERC jurisdiction over BPA and other publicly-owned utilities. Fundamentally, the proposed structure would bring together public power utilities, including but not necessarily limited to publics operating BAAs, to pool regulation and balancing reserves and to interact with the PacifiCorp-ISO EIM.
A publics-only EIM would have several advantages over an EIM with mixed public and IOU participation. Perhaps most importantly, the publics-only structure would create an attractive option for BPA, capturing most or all of the advantages that an EIM might create for BPA, but creating a bulwark against expanded FERC jurisdiction over the agency.

In addition, the publics-only EIM would keep public power's fate squarely in its own hands. Because FERC generally has no authority over public power, a publics-only EIM will be able to resist top-down mandates from FERC. If FERC attempts to force a publics-only structure into an expanded mandatory market along the lines of a West-wide RTO, the publics can resist without the same fear of regulatory consequences that would be inherent in an EIM where FERC-jurisdictional IOUs are participants.

Similarly, when faced with the question of adding new functions that would move the EIM toward a full-scale RTO, a publics-only RTO can consider adding new functions on the basis of their own merits, without concern that mandates from FERC would force their hand. Thus, this structure allows public power greater control of its own fate, limiting the extent to which FERC can use its expansive jurisdiction over IOUs as a lever to force its will on the West.

ADDITIONAL GOVERNANCE MEASURES
As currently planned, the EIM will operate using the ISO's 15-minute market system. This creates the danger that the ISO will become the default operator of the EIM across the West. With this underlying market structure, ensuring that public power, especially public power entities operating outside California, have an adequate voice in the EIM's operation becomes a challenge.

PacifiCorp and the ISO propose a "Transition Committee" to move toward an independent governing structure for the EIM, but it is not clear the proposed structure would result in fully representative governance. The Transition Committee would be composed of seven members, but, apart from EIM participants, there is no requirement that any particular segment of the industry be represented. This is particularly a problem for public power utilities without BAAs, which are likely to ultimately foot the bill for EIM costs but will not directly participate. And the long-term governance structure of the EIM is still to be developed. This process merits public power's careful attention.

In addition, public power should insist on a "Circuit Breaker" that would require the EIM to suspend operations if there are indications that the market is being manipulated or is otherwise functioning improperly. Circuit breakers of this type are a common feature of most commodity markets. When there are indications that a market participant is attempting to "corner" the market in particular commodity or is otherwise manipulating market prices or outcomes, the circuit breaker kicks in and trading is suspended in that market until appropriate measures are put in place to end the market abuse and make whole those market participants who have suffered from the manipulation.

A circuit breaker is particularly important for the EIM because credible concerns have been raised about market power in the transmission markets covered by the EIM and because the cost-benefit analyses performed so far suggest, at best, modest benefits for the EIM. It is simply not worth the risk of repeating the disaster of the 2000-01 Enron crisis in order to obtain these relatively modest benefits. A circuit breaker would provide market participants with the kind of immediate protection that was lacking in 2000-01, when Western public power waited for more than a year for FERC to take meaningful action to end widespread manipulation and dysfunction of the power markets, which cost hundreds of thousands their jobs and reduced regional economic output by tens of billions of dollars.

CONCLUSION
When all hope of avoiding assimilation by the Borg appears lost, Star Fleet throws all its remaining ships into a blockade around the inner Solar System. With some clever last-minute thinking by the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the Borg's invasion is stopped and the human race is saved from assimilation. In the same way, the measures suggested here can create a blockade that protects core public power values, and prevents assimilation into FERC and the ISO.

FERC Files Suit Seeking Market Manipulation Penalties Against Barclays

October 10, 2013

Following last week's announcement that it has found evidence of manipulation in the Western markets by Constellation Energy Commodities Group, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") yesterday took another major step in its battle to protect the electricity markets from manipulation by unscrupulous traders. Seeking to enforce nearly $500 million in penalties it assessed in July against Barclays Bank and four individual Barclays energy traders, FERC filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. (Case No. 2:13-at-01158, filed Oct. 9, 2013).

The case will blaze new legal ground because it is the first time FERC has used its power under Section 823b(d) of the Federal Power Act to enforce civil penalties against a power trader accused of market manipulation. Under those procedures, the District Court will conduct a review de novo of the law and facts found by FERC in its July order. Section 823b(d)'s de novo review standard is considerably more stringent that the "arbitrary and capricious" standard ordinarily applied by the courts when reviewing FERC orders.

If you have any questions about the lawsuit against Barclays and its traders, FERC's market manipulation rules, or other matters involving the energy industry, please contact a member of GTH's Energy, Telecommunications, and Utilities practice group.

FERC Announces New Allegations of Western Electricity Market Manipulation

October 9, 2013

On October 4, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") issued a terse announcement of its preliminary determination that Constellation Energy Commodities Group ("CECG") improperly manipulated the Western electricity markets. FERC issues such notices after its investigative staff has completed a non-public investigation of alleged misconduct, the subject of the investigation has had an opportunity to respond in writing, and FERC staff has considered that response. Hence, the notice is not a definitive statement that improper conduct has occurred, but it indicates that the staff is sufficiently confident in the evidence to announce its preliminary conclusions publicly.

The notice provides almost no details of the allegations against CECG. However, the nature of the violation specified in the notice, combined with a previous investigation resulting in a then-record fine against CECG, suggests that CECG may have been manipulating the California ISO's physical market prices to artificially benefit its financial positions in those markets.

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Federal Court Decision Illustrates Hazards of FERC-Jurisdictional Markets in the Pacific Northwest

October 7, 2013

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland last week issued an opinion striking down a "contract for differences" designed to ensure an adequate long-term power supply. The decision underscores some of the pitfalls that may be arise from creation of an "Energy Imbalance Market" ("EIM") or similar FERC-jurisdictional "centralized" markets here in the Pacific Northwest. PPL Energy Plus, LLC v. Nazarian, D. Md. No. MJG-12-1286 (issued Sept. 30, 2013).

The case arises from the struggles of the Maryland Public Service Commission ("MPSC") to address long-term power supplies in Maryland, particularly in constrained areas of the PJM market. The MPSC was concerned that in PJM -- the regional transmission organization ("RTO") that operates electric markets in the mid-Atlantic region, where prices are set based upon fluctuating Locational Marginal Price -- fails to provide adequate incentives for construction long-term power supplies. To address this problem, the MPSC approved a "contract for differences" between the local supplier and a generation developer. The contract creates a mechanism that effectively ensures a stable long-term price for generation by compensating the generation owner when short-term locational prices fall below the long-term guaranteed price.

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FERC Lifts Curtain on Market Manipulation Investigation, Settles Charges Against JP Morgan for $410 Million

July 30, 2013

Confirming rumors that have swirled for several weeks, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") today today approved a settlement between JP Morgan Ventures Energy Corporation, the energy trading arm of financial giant JP Morgan, and FERC's Office of Enforcement. The settlement is eye-opening both for its $410 million price-tag and because it reveals for the first time details of the market manipulation schemes carried out by JP Morgan.

The market manipulation schemes -- identified as "Strategy A" through "Strategy H" in the settlement agreement -- arose from JP Morgan's attempts to extract value from under-performing assets it purchased from Bear Stearns as Bear Stearns spiraled into bankruptcy in 2008. These assets included a number of older gas-fired generators in Southern California, with a total of 4,000 MW of capacity, and an additional gas-fired generator in Michigan. The plants were built in the 1950s and '60s, and, because they used older technology, were relatively inefficient. Because they are inefficient, the plants were rarely dispatched in the "organized markets" operated by the California ISO and Midwest ISO, and therefore consistently lost money.

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Advancing Energy Storage, FERC Order Provides New Clarity on Treatment of Storage Technologies

July 24, 2013

At its July meeting, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") issued final rule that lays the regulatory groundwork for energy storage, as well as improving the markets for many ancillary services. The final rule should provide much-needed regulatory clarity that will encourage deployment of many rapidly-advancing energy storage technologies.

The final rule addresses two major issues: regulatory requirements for selling ancillary services in interstate electricity markets and accounting requirements for energy storage. With respect to the sale of ancillary services, the rule modifies requirements for sellers of ancillary services to demonstrate that they lack market power in order to sell at market-based rates (often referred to as the "Avista policy"). The Avista policy has long been criticized because it is difficult or impossible to develop the data necessary to demonstrate a lack of market power for many ancillary service markets. For this reason, in the final rule, FERC concluded that the policy has become an "unreasonable barrier to entry" into ancillary services markets.

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FERC Affirms Nearly $500 Million in Penalties Against Barclays for Western Market Manipulation, JP Morgan Could Be Next

July 22, 2013

Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") affirmed that it will seek disgorgement of profits and penalties from Barclays Bank and a group of its individual traders totaling nearly $500 million. FERC's order, issued July 16, confirms findings from a show case order issued on Halloween Day of last year that Barclays systematically manipulated Western power markets between 2006 and 2008. We discussed the Halloween order in greater detail here. In the meantime, repeated press reports over the last week suggest that JP Morgan Chase will pay roughly $500 million to FERC to settle market manipulation claims. Together, these developments demonstrate that FERC has "grown adult teeth" in enforcing its anti-manipulation rules, including the new authority it was assigned in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

In the show cause order issued last October after an extensive FERC staff investigation, FERC found that Barclays engaged in trading strategies designed to drive down the price of power sold at Western market hubs in order to artificially inflate the value of its portfolio of financial hedges. Last week's order rejects a variety of legal and factual challenges to the 2012 show cause order. As a result, FERC affirms its earlier findings that Barclays should be assessed a civil penalty of $435 million and required to disgorge $34.9 million in unjust profits, plus interest. In addition, FERC concludes that Barclays trader Scott Connelly should be assessed a $15 million civil penalty in his individual capacity, and individual traders Daniel Brin, Karen Levine, and Ryan Smith should be assessed civil penalties of $1 million each.

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"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.)

IRS Provides Tax-Day Gift to Renewable Energy Producers, Providing Guidance on Production Tax Credit Eligibility

April 25, 2013

While many of us were scrambling to finish our tax returns on April 15, the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") was also busy, issuing long-anticipated guidance of critical importance for renewable energy developers. The new IRS guidance, Notice No. 2013-29, provides standards for determining whether the "beginning of construction" of a renewable energy facility has occurred by January 1, 2014, the deadline for the facility to be eligible for the Production Tax Credit ("PTC"). Eligible generation owners may opt to take the energy investment tax credit ("ITC") in lieu of the PTC. The new IRS guidance is of great importance to renewable energy developers because the availability of PTCs or ITCs is often critical to project economics.

Congress extended the deadlines for PTC eligibility as part of the 2012's American Taxpayer Relief Act. Before that law was enacted, a facility was required to be "placed in service" before January 1, 2014, to be eligible for the PTC. Wind facilities were required to be "placed in service" by January 1, 2013. The new legislation makes all types of eligible renewable energy facilities eligible for the PTC if they "begin construction" before January 1, 2014. The legislation left open the question of what it means to "begin construction." IRS's new Notice provides some specific parameters to answer than question.

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