On February 11, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (“Fourth Circuit”) held that FERC’s claim for civil penalties under the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) against Powhatan Energy Fund, LLC and certain of its traders and affiliates (“Powhatan”) was not barred by the statute of limitations. In doing so, the Fourth Circuit held that FERC’s claim in federal district court did not accrue for statute of limitation purposes until all of the legal prerequisites for filing the suit had been met, including failure by Powhatan to pay its assessed penalties.  
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On February 3, 2020, FERC denied a waiver request filed by Genbright LLC (“Genbright”) seeking a one-time limited waiver of Market Rule 1 in the ISO New England Inc. (“ISO-NE”) Transmission, Markets and Services Tariff (“Tariff”) to allow fourteen distributed energy resource projects (the “DER Projects”) to participate in the fourteenth ISO-NE Forward Capacity Auction (“FCA 14”).  According to Genbright, the DER Projects did not qualify to participate in this year’s capacity auction because Genbright sought interconnection under a state-administered interconnection process rather than the FERC jurisdictional interconnection options specified in the ISO-NE Tariff, and Genbright argued that the interconnected utility should have alerted Genbright of the FERC-jurisdictional status of its interconnections.  In denying the request, FERC found that granting waiver would inappropriately allow Genbright to avoid ISO-NE’s complex interconnection study process.
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On January 30, 2020, FERC granted in part and denied in part a declaratory order petition filed by PennEast Pipeline Company (“PennEast”) requesting that the Commission interpret the scope of a natural gas pipeline company’s eminent domain authority under the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”). FERC’s order follows a September 2019 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (“Third Circuit”), In re PennEast Pipeline Company, LLC (see September 18, 2019 edition of the WER). FERC’s January 30 declaratory order agreed with PennEast that Congress intended the NGA to be a vehicle for granting condemnation authority, and therefore intended to delegate the federal government’s own exemption from state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to a natural gas company that holds a valid, FERC-issued Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (“CPCN”). However, FERC refrained from deciding whether that delegation of power is constitutional. The order was issued on a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Richard Glick dissenting on both procedural and substantive grounds.
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On December 5, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) granted a petition for rehearing en banc of an opinion it issued on August 2, 2019 (“August 2019 Opinion”) upholding FERC’s decision to conditionally approve the application of Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company (“Transco”) to construct and operate the Atlantic Sunrise Project.  Petitioners challenge FERC’s use of tolling orders, which allow FERC to delay rehearing after granting a pipeline certificate, as impermissible under the Natural Gas Act and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  Specifically, Petitioners argue that FERC’s use of tolling orders in pipeline certificate proceedings unlawfully require challengers to wait for the rehearing order to issue before obtaining judicial review, while the pipeline can proceed with eminent domain proceedings and pipeline construction following the issuance of FERC’s certificate order.     
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On November 22, 2019, FERC issued three separate orders accepting, subject to further compliance, California Independent System Operator Corporation’s (“CAISO”), the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc.’s (“MISO”), and ISO New England, Inc.’s (“ISO-NE”) proposals to comply with FERC Order Nos. 841 and 841-A—addressing energy storage resources’ (“ESR”) participation in Regional Transmission Organization/Independent System Operator (“RTO/ISO”)-operated markets (see February 20, 2018 edition of the WER; April 10, 2019 edition of the WER; and May 22, 2019 edition of the WER for more background and context on Order No. 841). The November 22 orders, which follow FERC’s previous acceptance of PJM Interconnection, L.L.C.’s and Southwest Power Pool, Inc.’s storage participation proposals (see October 24, 2019 edition of the WER), found that the RTOs/ISOs generally complied with the requirements of Order No. 841. FERC ordered certain modifications to each RTO’s/ISO’s proposals, addressing metering and accounting practices, ESR bidding parameters, minimum size requirements, and transmission service charges, in addition to other issues. Commissioner McNamee issued separate opinions concurring with all three orders.
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On September 19, 2019, one Independent and four Democratic Senators wrote a letter to FERC which expressed concerns over recent actions taken by FERC and which directed a series of questions to FERC regarding the “apparent erosion” of FERC’s role in preventing fraud and manipulation in U.S. energy and financial markets (see October 3, 2019 edition of the WER). The concerns expressed by the senators related to (i) the decline in the number of civil penalty actions initiated by FERC; (ii) the closing of FERC’s Division of Energy Market Oversight (“DEMO”), and (iii) FERC’s ending its policy on issuing Notices of Alleged Violations (“NAVs”) regarding investigations.
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On October 25, 2019, FERC found that Vitol, Inc. (“Vitol”) and one of its traders, Federico Corteggiano, violated the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) and FERC’s rules prohibiting energy market manipulation by importing power at a loss from October 28 through November 1, 2013, at the border of the California Independent System Operator Corporation’s (“CAISO”) wholesale electric market in order to relieve transmission congestion and to benefit Vitol’s congestion revenue rights (“CRRs”) sourced at that location. The order follows an investigation into Vitol’s and Corteggiano’s trading practices that was initiated in 2014 by FERC’s Office of Enforcement. In July 2019, following the completion of Enforcement Staff’s investigation, FERC issued an order directing Vitol and Corteggiano to show cause why they should not be assessed Enforcement Staff’s recommended civil penalties of $6 million and $800,000 respectively, and directing Vitol to show cause why it should not disgorge $1,227,143 in unjust profits. FERC’s October 25 order affirmed Enforcement Staff’s conclusion that Vitol and Corteggiano engaged in market manipulation, and ordered Vitol to disgorge $1,227,143 in unjust profits. However, FERC significantly reduced Vitol’s civil penalty to $1.5 million and increased Corteggiano’s civil penalty to $1 million after concluding that Corteggiano was primarily responsible for the manipulative conduct.
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On October 17, 2019, FERC denied Public Citizen, Inc.’s (“Public Citizen”) complaint alleging that PJM Interconnection, L.L.C. (“PJM”) recovered improper campaign contributions and lobbying expenses through its filed rate and failed to disclose its spending on political activity. In doing so, FERC concluded that PJM could recover the expenses in question through its rates because they represent an educational, outreach, or informational function essential to PJM’s core operations and because PJM determined that such expenditures are in the collective best interest of PJM’s stakeholders.
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On October 4, 2019, FERC rejected without prejudice a stated rate tariff and Open Access Transmission Tariff (“OATT”), among other filings, by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc. (“Tri-State”) and its subsidiary Thermal Cogen Partnership, L.P. (“Thermal Cogen”). Tri-State, an electric cooperative previously exempt from FERC’s jurisdiction, submitted the filings in an attempt to submit to FERC regulation after Tri-State admitted Mieco, Inc., a jurisdictional public utility, to its Board of Directors. FERC concluded that Tri-State’s stated rate tariff and OATT filings were patently deficient because they failed to provide the supporting data required for FERC to assess whether the proposed rates were just and reasonable, and for potentially interested parties to determine how the rates might affect them.
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On September 30, 2019, President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate James P. Danly for Commissioner of FERC. If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Danly would fill the seat vacated by the passing of former Chairman Kevin McIntyre for a term to expire on June 30, 2023, resulting in three Republican Commissioners and one Democratic Commissioner.
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