On Monday, March 25, 2019, ISO New England, Inc. (“ISO-NE”) filed a proposal with FERC for an interim inventoried energy program that would provide incremental compensation to generation resources that store fuel onsite during winter months. ISO-NE’s filing explains that a key contributor to the region’s winter energy security concerns is its reliance on gas deliveries from the interstate pipeline network, which can become constrained during winter cold spells, and that lack of on-site fuel sources during these cold spells can lead to loss of load events.  ISO-NE seeks to reduce this concern by directly compensating generation resources for maintaining “inventoried energy,” defined as “fuel or potential energy that a resource can convert to electric energy at the ISO’s direction.”  The proposal is intended as an interim measure to complement the ISO’s ongoing efforts to develop a long-term, market-based solution to the region’s fuel security challenges.  The ISO believes that the program will contribute to the region’s winter energy security by providing incremental revenue to generation resources that store fuel on-site, reducing the amount of revenue those resources must recover through the capacity market, and decreasing the likelihood that such resources will seek to retire.  However, ISO-NE also clarified that it cannot guarantee that the program will “incent specific resources to take precise actions that improve winter energy security or deter any particular resource that would otherwise be economic from retiring.”
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On March 20, 2019 the Missouri Public Service Commission (“MPSC”) granted a certificate of convenience and necessity (“CCN”) to Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC (“Grain Belt”) for a $2.35 billion, 780-mile, 600 kV transmission line that is planned to deliver wind-generated electricity from western Kansas to customers in both MISO and PJM. While the MPSC previously denied Grain Belt’s application for a CCN in a 2015 decision that cited burdens to affected landowners, its March 20 order concludes that “the broad economic, environmental, and other benefits of the Project to the entire state of Missouri outweigh the interests of the individual landowners,” whose concerns would be “addressed through carefully considered conditions placed on the CCN.”
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On March 6, 2019, the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) declined to reconsider an earlier order refusing to enforce a newly-enacted mandatory biomass power purchase obligation, and associated subsidy scheme. Although the New Hampshire PUC ruled narrowly in both decisions, the law subsidizing state biomass generators at above-market rates is the latest in a series of recent state actions pushing the jurisdictional line between FERC and state authority (see, e.g., April 27, 2016 edition of the WER; September 25, 2018 edition of the WER; October 3, 2018 edition of the WER).  As of this writing, challenges to the law remain pending at FERC.
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On February 21, 2019, FERC issued an order accepting tariff revisions proposed by the California Independent System Operator Corporation (“CAISO”) regarding manual load forecast adjustments (also known as “load conformance”) in the CAISO and the western Energy Imbalance Market (“EIM”).  CAISO’s December 12, 2018 filing proposed tariff additions to describe: (1) load-conforming practice used in the real-time market; (2) a similar load-conforming practice used in the residual unit commitment (“RUC”) process of the day-ahead market; and (3) a “load conformance limiter” tool to automatically limit system operator-initiated load conformance in the real-time market to ensure that adjustments to load do not exceed actual market ramping capability, thereby triggering shortage pricing when extra supply is not actually needed.  FERC approved CAISO’s tariff revisions, effective February 27, 2019, over objections from parties that the load conformance limiter mechanism suppresses market prices and prevents shortage pricing.
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On February 19, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) issued an unpublished opinion in Appalachian Voices v. FERC, No. 17-1271, denying petitions for review filed by Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the Sierra Club, among others (“Petitioners”), that challenged FERC’s issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity (“certificate”) for the 300-mile natural gas Mountain Valley Pipeline extending from Wetzel County, West Virginia to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. The D.C. Circuit’s order rejected all sixteen of the Petitioners’ challenges to FERC’s approval of the certificate, and notably concluded that: (1) market need for the project was demonstrated by long-term precedent agreements, even though the agreements were with affiliates, and (2) FERC’s estimate of emissions resulting from the end-use combustion of natural gas and explanation why the Social Cost of Carbon is not an appropriate measure of project-level climate change impacts were all that was required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”).
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On February 14, 2019, FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee testified alongside officials from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the Department of Energy (“DOE”), the National Guard, and an engineering firm at a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (“Committee”) to consider cybersecurity efforts in the energy industry.  In response to Senators’ questions about whether the natural gas industry should be subject to mandatory cyber security standards, a position the Chairman laid out in a June 2018 op-ed written with fellow FERC Commissioner Richard Glick, Chairman Chatterjee acknowledged that natural gas pipelines remain vulnerable to cyber-attacks and that it is imperative to continue work to address these threats.  He made clear, however, that industry and government have made significant strides toward addressing the issue even without mandatory cybersecurity standards.  Chairman Chatterjee assured the Committee that FERC is dedicated to protecting the energy sector from cyber threats and is ready to work with Congress and other agencies to bolster the nation’s cybersecurity posture.
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On January 29, FERC issued an order accepting revisions to ISO New England Inc.’s (“ISO-NE”) Competitive Auctions with Sponsored Policy Resources (“CASPR”) program, the ISO-NE’s mechanism to integrate state-sponsored generation resources (“Sponsored Policy Resources”) that might otherwise suppress prices in its Forward Capacity Market.  The order addressed the contested test price mechanism in detail, ultimately accepting it as a just and reasonable modification to ISO-NE’s Forward Capacity Auction (“FCA”) design.  In so doing, FERC’s order permits ISO-NE to bar capacity resources from participating in the FCA secondary auction if those resources bid capacity into the FCA primary action at a price below the ISO-NE’s assessment of their going-forward costs.  FERC’s order drew a dissent from Commissioner Glick, who argued that the test price mechanism had not been shown to be just and reasonable.
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On January 15, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) in San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. FERC, No. 16-1433, denied San Diego Gas & Electric’s (“SDG&E”) petition for review of FERC orders declining retroactive application of its cancelled or abandoned electric transmission facilities incentive (“Abandonment Incentive”).  The D.C. Circuit’s decision denies SDG&E the eligibility to recover, in the case of abandonment, approximately $15 million in development costs associated with its South Orange County Reliability Enhancement Project (“SOCRE Project”).  The decision also prompted a dissent from Senior Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph, who argued that the underlying FERC orders were contrary to the plain language of the regulation at issue, as well as the Commission’s own precedent.
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On January 7, 2019, FERC Commissioner Bernard McNamee signaled in a letter to members of the United States Senate (“January 7 Letter”) that he would not recuse himself from FERC’s pending grid resiliency proceeding in Docket No. AD18-7 unless the FERC proceeding began to “closely resemble” a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NOPR”) issued in September 2018 by the Department of Energy (“DOE”).  Commissioner McNamee helped draft the DOE NOPR, which also addressed grid resiliency issues and was rejected by FERC in Docket No. RM18-1 in January 2018 (see January 17, 2018 edition of the WER), when he was an attorney at the DOE.  The January 7 Letter responded to a December 12, 2018 request from a group of Senators, led by Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), that Commissioner McNamee provide an update on the guidance he received from FERC ethics officials regarding his recusal from specific proceedings.  According to that guidance, notwithstanding the similarities between Docket No. AD18-7 and the now-terminated Docket No. RM18-1 on the DOE NOPR, previous statements by Commissioner McNamee did not meet the legal standard for recusal, although the guidance urged “continued oversight to ensure that Docket No. AD18-7 does not develop in such a way as to replicate or closely resemble Docket No. RM18-1.”
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