On May 1, 2020, President Trump issued Executive Order 13920 (“Executive Order”), which prohibited certain transactions involving bulk-power system electric equipment manufactured or supplied by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary that poses an undue risk of catastrophic effects on the security or resiliency of U.S. critical infrastructure or the national security of the U.S.  The Executive Order poses several potential problems for electric industry participants, particularly renewable generation owners, developers and investors, which will likely cause uncertainty in equipment procurement decisions.  The Executive Order and its potential issues are discussed below.
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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) issued on April 16, 2020 two orders[1] largely denying requests for rehearing of its prior decisions that, among other things, subjected to minimum offer price thresholds energy resources participating in PJM Interconnection, L.L.C.’s (“PJM”) capacity market which receive so-called “State Subsidies”.[2]  FERC  reaffirmed that a resource within broadly-defined categories (e.g., renewable resources) receiving State Subsidies must offer capacity in PJM’s forward capacity market at or above an administratively-established price floor (i.e., the minimum offer price rule, or “MOPR”), regardless of such a resource’s actual incremental costs.  Potential and likely ramifications of the Commission’s actions, arguments opponents of the April 16 Orders are likely to raise and potential paths forward for industry market participants are set forth below.  Additionally, the most promising arguments that could be used to invalidate the April 16 Orders, some of which are discussed below, have not been raised before or addressed by FERC.

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Members of the Sheppard Mullin Energy, Infrastructure and Project Finance Team wrote an article published in the March 16, 2020 edition of Tax Notes Federal regarding the practical impacts on tax equity financing for renewable energy projects of a private letter ruling (“PLR”) published by the IRS in late 2019.  The PLR addressed normalization and loss disallowance rules applicable to public utilities.  These rules have posed significant challenges to public utilities that want to own renewable energy generation facilities, make efficient use of the tax benefits they provide (via the tax equity market) and recover their costs from ratepayers.

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Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) continued to issue orders, notices, and guidance related to the current novel coronavirus pandemic, the health and safety of FERC and energy industry employees, and the continued reliability of the U.S. energy sector.  A summary of FERC’s relevant actions are provided below, including information regarding FERC’s operating status, extensions for filing deadlines and efforts to ease regulatory burdens during this crisis.

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A Washington state federal court recently addressed claims relating to rates that cryptocurrency mining companies pay for electricity in Grant County, Washington. The court rejected all of the miner’s legal claims. The dispute focused on the rate classification that this utility applied to crypto miners as explained below.  Due to various risks, the electric utility assigned the miners to a newly created rate class referred to as “Evolving Industries,” resulting in a higher rate class for the miners.  The miners were I-“rate” with this decision.

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On Thursday, March 26, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced and issued a Memo establishing an agency-wide temporary enforcement policy suspending or staying a broad array of enforcement efforts for certain environmental regulations and requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Memo states that EPA recognizes that “the pandemic may affect facility operations and the availability of key staff and contractors and the ability of laboratories to timely analyze samples and provide results.”  In light of this, the Memo states that EPA will “focus its resources largely on situations that may create an acute risk or imminent threat to public health or the environment.”  The Memo establishes certain limits on the policy as well as procedures that must be followed – which are different in different circumstances – in order for an impacted regulated entity to qualify for relief under the Policy.

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On February 20, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“Commission” or “FERC”) issued several orders narrowing New York Independent System Operator, Inc.’s (“NYISO”) buyer-side market power mitigation rules in its mitigated capacity zones,[1] including NYISO’s proposal to exempt up to 1,000 megawatts (“MW”) of renewable resources from NYISO’s buyer-side market mitigation rules in a capacity auction year (“NYISO Renewable Exemption Order”).  The Commission’s actions will significantly impact renewable resources in NYISO, PJM Interconnection, L.L.C. (“PJM”), and potentially other organized markets.  Rejection of the proposed MW exemption will hinder renewable resources’ participation in NYISO’s capacity auction by: (i) requiring them to bid no lower than an established price floor, regardless of their actual incremental costs; and (ii) tightening currently-available mitigation exemptions. 

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On February 19, 2020, the IRS published two guidance documents (links here and here) of significant legal and commercial importance to the nascent market for carbon capture and sequestration production tax credits set forth in Section 45Q of the Internal Revenue Code. Although there are certain differences, the guidance bears striking similarity to existing guidance relied upon by participants in the existing wind production tax credit (Wind PTC) tax equity market. Because of the highly developed state of the Wind PTC market, the similarities make it likely that existing Wind PTC deal structures could be adapted for the 45Q tax credits, thereby improving market adoption and transactional efficiencies. On the other hand, technical and economic differences exist between wind generation and carbon sequestration that need to be overcome in order for a robust 45Q tax credit market to develop. While we are continuing to review and consider this new guidance, we have some preliminary observations as to its practical implications on potential 45Q tax credit transactions.

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On February 20, 2020, the California Energy Commission approved its first community solar system under the 2019 Energy Code, which allows developers of new homes within Sacramento Municipal Utility District (“SMUD”) to meet mandatory solar energy system requirements through solar agreements with SMUD instead of installation of solar panels on new homes.

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