FERC Provides Additional Regulatory Relief and Guidance in Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

Mark R. Haskell, Brett A. Snyder, and Lamiya N. Rahman

On April 2, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) announced several measures intended to provide relief to regulated entities responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. A summary of FERC’s previous COVID-19-related relief and guidance can be found here.

In a Policy Statement, the Commission indicated it will prioritize and expeditiously act on requests for relief filed by regulated entities in connection with ensuring business continuity of their energy infrastructure. In a series of notices and orders, the Commission also extended or clarified the relief available to regulated entities that are unable to meet certain deadlines or regulatory requirements as a result of their COVID-19 response. This relief includes:

    • Extension to June 1, 2020 for the following deadlines:
      1. Form Nos. 60 (Annual Report of Centralized Service Companies) and 61 (Narrative Description of Service Company Functions);
      2. Form No. 552 (Annual Report of Natural Gas Transactions); and
      3. Electric Quarterly Report Form 920.
    • Extensions to May 1, 2020 for the following deadlines for categories of filings that would otherwise be due on or before May 1, 2020:
      1. interventions, protests, or comments to a complaint;
      2. briefs on and opposing exceptions to an initial decision;
      3. answers to complaints and orders to show cause; and
      4. initial and reply briefs in paper hearings.
    • Waiver of FERC regulations governing the form of filings submitted to the Commission (e.g., provision of sworn declarations) through May 1, 2020.
    • Shortening of the answer period to three business days for motions for extensions of time due to COVID-19 emergency conditions. The Commission indicated it will also consider requests to shorten the comment period for motions seeking waiver of requirements in Commission orders, regulations, tariffs, rate schedules, and service agreements to as short as five days.
    • Temporary blanket waivers from document notarization and in-person meeting requirements established under open access transmission tariffs, or other tariffs, rate schedules, service agreements, or contracts subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction. These waivers are effective through September 1, 2020.
    • Extension of time for filing regional transmission organization (“RTO”)/independent system operator (“ISO”) Uplift Reports and Operator Initiated Commitment Reports required pursuant to Order No. 844 that were originally due between April and September 2020. These reports are now due to be posted on the RTOs/ISOs websites by October 20, 2020.

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FERC Issues Guidance and Regulatory Relief in Connection with Coronavirus Response

Mark R. Haskell, Brett A. Snyder, Lamiya N. Rahman, and Jane Thomas

On March 19, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) announced several regulatory responses to the coronavirus pandemic and FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee held a press conference to discuss the agency’s initiatives. The Chairman emphasized the capabilities of the Commission and its staff to work in a timely manner throughout the pandemic response, while striving to provide necessary flexibility to regulated entities.

The Chairman named Caroline Wozniak, a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Energy Market Regulation, as the point of contact for all energy industry inquiries related to the impacts of COVID-19. Members of the regulated community may e-mail PandemicLiaison@FERC.gov with questions for Commission staff.

Chairman Chatterjee clarified that the Commission will provide regulated entities with flexibility when needed, but emphasized the Commission is fully functioning and will try not to delay decisions. Chairman Chatterjee also stated his goal is to issue certain rehearing orders involving pipeline certificate projects challenged by affected landowners within 30 days, consistent with guidance from the Chairman issued on January 31, 2020.

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FERC Issues Penalty Assessment in Vitol CAISO Market Manipulation Proceeding

Mark R. Haskell, George D. Billinson, and Lamiya N. Rahman

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an Order Assessing Civil Penalties, imposing approximately $1.5 million in civil penalties on Vitol Inc. and one million dollars in penalties on a Vitol trader. In a departure from prior cases, the Commission assessed penalties well below Enforcement Staff’s recommended six-million-dollar penalty for the company, in light of the individual trader’s significant involvement in the alleged scheme. The next step for Respondents wishing to challenge the Order will be de novo review in federal district court.

On October 25, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) issued an Order Assessing Civil Penalties (“Order”), imposing civil penalties of $1,515,738 against Vitol Inc. (“Vitol”) and one million dollars against Federico Corteggiano, a Vitol trader, in connection with an alleged market manipulation scheme in the California Independent System Operator Corporation’s (“CAISO”) markets.[i] Additionally, the Commission ordered Vitol to disgorge unjust profits, plus interest, of $1,227,143.

As we have previously discussed, the Commission began this proceeding by issuing an Order to Show Cause and Notice of Proposed Penalty to Respondents on July 10, 2019. In that order, the Commission directed Vitol and Corteggiano to show cause why they should not be assessed civil penalties of six million dollars and $800,000, respectively, and why Vitol should not be required to disgorge unjust profits of $1,227,143, plus interest. Respondents elected to have the Commission assess an immediate penalty if it finds a violation and then proceed with de novo review before a federal district court.

In the instant Order, the Commission found that Vitol and Corteggiano (collectively, “Respondents”) violated the anti-manipulation prohibitions in the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) and FERC’s Anti-Manipulation Rule[ii] through a cross-market scheme in which Respondents sold power at a loss in the CAISO wholesale electric market to avoid greater losses in Vitol’s positions in a separate financial product—congestion revenue rights (“CRRs”).[iii]

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[i] Vitol Inc., Order Assessing Civil Penalties, 169 FERC ¶ 61,070 (2019).

[ii] FPA § 222 (2012); 18 C.F.R. § 1c.2 (2019).

[iii] Specifically, the Commission found Respondents intentionally engaged in fraudulent physical energy imports during the period October 28-November 1, 2013, at the Cascade intertie to relieve congestion at Cragview, which in turn lowered the Cragview locational marginal price (“LMP”) and economically benefitted Vitol’s CRRs sourced at that location. Order at P 34.

FERC Further Clarifies Its Orders Reforming Generator Interconnection Procedures and Agreements

Mark R. Haskell, George D. Billinson, and Lamiya N. Rahman

On August 16, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “the Commission”) issued an order granting in part and denying in part requests for further clarification of its reform of Large Generator Interconnection Agreements (“LGIA”) and Procedures (“LGIP”).[1] Order No. 845-B affirms FERC’s prior findings that the expansion of an interconnection customer’s option to build does not impede transmission owners’ ability to recover a return of and on network upgrades. The order also reiterates FERC’s determination not to revise the pro forma LGIA’s indemnity provisions.

Order No. 845—FERC’s Final Rule revising the pro forma LGIP and LGIA—made various reforms to “improve certainty for interconnection customers, promote more informed interconnection decisions, and enhance the interconnection process.”[2] Among these changes, the Commission expanded interconnection customers’ ability to exercise the option to build transmission providers’ interconnection facilities and standalone network upgrades beyond instances where the transmission provider is unable to meet the interconnection customer’s preferred construction timeline.

A subsequent decision, Order No. 845-A, among other things, rejected arguments that the option build revisions contradicted the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s (“D.C. Circuit”) decision in Ameren Services Co. v. FERC. According to the Commission, “Ameren stands for the principle that the Commission cannot prohibit a transmission owner from earning a return of, and on, the cost of its network upgrades.”[3] In that case, the D.C. Circuit vacated FERC’s orders requiring the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (“MISO”) to remove an option under its tariff allowing transmission owners to unilaterally elect to initially fund network upgrades and to thereafter recover the interconnection customer’s portion of the cost burden through periodic network upgrade charges that included a return on the capital investment (i.e., the “transmission owner initial funding option”). Although the Commission initially found the transmission owner initial funding option unjust and unreasonable, the D. C. Circuit remanded the orders directing the Commission to “explain how investors could be expected to underwrite the prospect of potentially large non-profit appendages with no compensatory incremental return.”[4] The Commission reinstated the transmission-owner initial funding option on remand.

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FERC Issues Show Cause Order Proposing $6.8M in Civil Penalties to Vitol Inc. and Individual Trader and $1.2M Disgorgement for Alleged CAISO Market Manipulation

Mark R. Haskell, George D. Billinson, and Lamiya N. Rahman

Recently, FERC issued an Order to Show Cause why Vitol Inc. and its co-director of financial transmission rights trading should not be found to have engaged in market manipulation by selling physical power in CAISO at a loss to eliminate expected losses on Vitol’s Congestion Revenue Rights. Within 30 days of the date of the Order, Respondents must show cause why they should not be found to have committed market manipulation, pay civil penalties, and disgorgement, as well as make an election under FPA § 31(d)(1) whether to proceed before an Administrative Law Judge or opt to have FERC assess a penalty and then proceed with de novo review by a federal district court.

On July 10, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) issued an Order to Show Cause and Notice of Proposed Penalty[1] to Vitol Inc. (“Vitol”) and Vitol’s co-head of financial transmission rights (“FTR”) trading, Federico Corteggiano (“Corteggiano”), (together, “Respondents”), directing the Respondents to show cause why they should not be found to have violated the anti-manipulation provisions of the Federal Power Act (“FPA”)[2] and the Commission’s regulations.[3]

The Order arises from allegations by FERC’s Office of Enforcement (“Enforcement”) that Respondents engaged in a “cross-product market manipulation scheme” by selling physical power at a loss in the California Independent System Operator (“CAISO”) day-ahead market to avoid even greater losses on their positions in a separate financial product—congestion revenue rights (“CRRs”). Enforcement’s factual allegations and legal analysis, resulting from an investigation into Respondents’ trading, are detailed in the Enforcement Staff Report and Recommendation included with the Order.[4] The investigation was prompted by a report from a CAISO market participant regarding Vitol’s activity.

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Council on Environmental Quality Seeks Public Comment on Draft NEPA Greenhouse Gas Emission Guidance

Brett A. Snyder and Lamiya N. Rahman

The Council on Environmental Quality has published Draft Guidance to federal agencies to evaluate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Draft Guidance is largely consistent with the approach taken by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in recent natural gas infrastructure orders. Comments are due on July 26, 2019.

Introduction

On June 26, 2019, the Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) published new draft guidance to clarify the scope of review federal agencies should undertake when considering the effects of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and related regulations.The Draft Guidance is intended to replace CEQ’s prior GHG-related guidance, which was adopted in 2016 and later rescinded pursuant to an Executive Order in 2017.2 The Draft Guidance is largely consistent with the approach taken by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) in recent natural gas infrastructure orders.

CEQ’s Draft Guidance

NEPA is a procedural statute that requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental impacts of any major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.3 Although NEPA does not mandate any particular substantive outcomes, it requires an agency to consider the direct and reasonably foreseeable indirect effects of a proposed action.4

The Draft Guidance states that “[a] projection of a proposed action’s direct and reasonably foreseeable indirect GHG emissions may be used as a proxy for assessing potential climate effects.”5 While direct effects are caused by an action and occur at the same time or place, indirect effects are caused by the action and are later in time or farther removed in distance but are still reasonably foreseeable. Thus, the proposed guidance suggests that quantification of emissions is sufficient to meet an agency’s obligation to assess effects of emissions.

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In PG&E Bankruptcy, FERC Reasserts Concurrent Jurisdiction over the Disposition of Wholesale Power Contracts

Mark R. Haskell, Frederick M. Lowther, and Lamiya N. Rahman

With the May 1 order, the Commission reaffirms its view that it has concurrent jurisdiction over debtors’ efforts to reject their FERC-jurisdictional contracts in bankruptcy. Further developments in judicial proceedings in the Sixth and Ninth Circuits are expected.

On May 1, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “the Commission”) denied Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (“PG&E”) requests for rehearing of two Commission orders asserting concurrent jurisdiction with bankruptcy courts over the disposition of wholesale power contracts PG&E seeks to reject through bankruptcy.1

In its Rehearing Order, the Commission acknowledged a circuit split regarding the relative authorities of the Commission under the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) and the bankruptcy courts under the Bankruptcy Code as they relate to the review and disposition of FERC-jurisdictional contracts in bankruptcy proceedings. However, the Commission affirmed its prior holdings that that “the way to give effect to both the FPA and the Bankruptcy Code is for a party to a Commission-jurisdictional wholesale power contract to obtain approval from both the Commission and the bankruptcy court to modify the filed rate and reject the contract, respectively.”2 Continue reading “In PG&E Bankruptcy, FERC Reasserts Concurrent Jurisdiction over the Disposition of Wholesale Power Contracts”