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Bill Rappolt is a partner in the firm's Washington, D.C. office. He is a member of the Energy Industry Team and Real Estate, Land Use and Environmental Practice Group.

On June 9, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a regulation precluding construction authorization for pipelines approved pursuant to Sections 3 and 7 of the Natural Gas Act (NGA) until FERC acts on the merits of any timely-filed requests for rehearing or the time for filing a rehearing request has expired.  Parties seeking to construct new interstate pipeline facilities likely will contend FERC’s regulation is overbroad and burdensome.  They may contend that it imposes unnecessary delays on the construction of critical energy infrastructure already approved by FERC and found to be in the public interest.  The regulation precludes the construction of the entirety of the approved pipeline regardless of whether the scope of the rehearing request includes all of the facilities. The regulation is linked to concerns that landowners will be subject to eminent domain actions, yet ostensibly bars construction activity regardless of the basis of the rehearing request, for instance regardless of whether the rehearing request has anything to do with the exercise of condemnation rights.  Pipelines may contend that the regulation is inconsistent with the NGA, federal policy supporting the construction of needed energy infrastructure, and a recent executive order directing federal agencies to support the economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Continue Reading FERC Issues Regulation Prohibiting Construction of Newly Approved Natural Gas Pipeline Facilities Until Resolution of all Rehearing Requests

On May 21, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) approved two orders by 3-1 votes revising its methods to estimate electric, natural gas and oil utilities’ returns on equity (“ROE”).[1]  Return on equity is one of the most contentious issues in cost-of-service proceedings before FERC, and FERC’s guidance is unlikely to alter that.  In many important ways, the guidance significantly deviated for electric utilities and pipelines, which raises a number of issues regarding whether such deviations are supported by each industry’s risks.
Continue Reading FERC Issues Revised Guidance Regarding Return on Equity Calculations

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.

Continue Reading FERC Reaffirms Controversial Energy Capacity Decisions: Insights and Analysis

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.

Continue Reading Walking the Path of Utilities’ Ownership of Wind and Solar

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.

Continue Reading FERC Orders, Notices, and Other Guidance Regarding the Novel Coronavirus

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. 

Continue Reading FERC Continues to Squeeze Renewable Resources Participating in Wholesale Electric Capacity Markets

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) requested comments on a proposed rulemaking to revise its regulations under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (“PURPA”). The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NOPR”), among other things, would diminish benefits that have been afforded to Qualifying Facilities (“QFs”), including the availability and value of the “PURPA-put.” The proposed changes also could potentially block certain wind and solar projects that previously would have qualified as small power production facilities from receiving that designation. The NOPR presents uncertainty for renewable developers, as well as other non-utility generators. Adoption of the proposed changes may hinder the development of some renewable energy projects. Comments on the proposed rulemaking are due within 60 days of its publication in the Federal Register.
Continue Reading FERC Proposes Major Changes to PURPA Regulations Impacting Qualifying Facility Rates and Requirements; Throwing Roadblocks in the Path of Renewable Energy Development

In a recent opinion, the Ninth Circuit held that the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) Renewable Market Adjusting Tariff (Re-MAT) program and alternative Qualifying Facility (QF) standard offer contract (Standard Contract) were preempted by federal law. The Re-MAT program and Standard Contract required California utilities to purchase energy from certain QFs with capacities up to three and twenty megawatts (MWs), respectively. The court found that the program and the contract violated the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978’s (PURPA) pricing requirements. The decision, Winding Creek Solar LLC v. Peterman, USCA Case Nos. 17-17531 and 17-17532 (9th Cir. 2019) demonstrates that PURPA continues to maintain a floor from which state regulatory programs must encourage the development of renewable energy from small producers. In 2018 and prior to Winding Creek, the CPUC instituted a rulemaking to consider adoption of a new Standard Contract but has not yet taken action. Winding Creek reemphasizes the importance of that proceeding for ensuring that California has a PURPA-compliant program in place for utilities to purchase QF-produced energy.
Continue Reading 9th Circuit Says CPUC’s Standard Contract and Re-MAT Program for Certain Renewable Generators are not PURPA Compliant

Recent developments in the energy sector indicate that blockchain technology is being embraced to address a range of issues including network security and improved integration of renewable generation and demand response resources. This emerging technology continues to have the potential to become a disrupter in the energy industry.
Continue Reading Blockchain Continues to Make Headway in the Energy Industry