Teamwork makes the dream work! In December 2018, Trico added the 10 MW Avion utility scale solar project to its power supply portfolio to offset approximately 4.5% of its energy needs. Two and a half years and a pandemic later, the Chirreon project is underway with a commercial operation date by mid-2022. This facility incorporates an integrated 10 MW solar and 15 MW battery storage solution in Pinal County, close to Trico loads, to bring Trico further into a sensible, renewables-laden future for its communities and members. It is smartly financed through a cooperative friendly program offered by CoBank Farm Credit Leasing. We (*Mary and I) were delighted to work with Trico once again, and congratulations to new CEO Brian Heithoff and his team, Torch Clean Energy, CoBank Farm Credit Leasing and all our other amazing partners that helped — and continue to help — to make this project happen.
Why do one solar + battery storage project when you can do two at a time? March Counsel was delighted to represent Kit Carson on the Angel Fire and Taos Mesa projects. Together they will add 21 MW of solar and 15 MW of battery storage to Kit Carson’s service territory in Northern New Mexico. Congratulations and thank you Luis Reyes Jr. and the Kit Carson team for the opportunity to work with you. And congratulations to the great legal and project development teams at CoBank/Farm Credit Leasing, Torch Clean Energy and Affordable Solar Installation for pushing through the adversity to get shovels in the dirt!
I am delighted to share a press release issued yesterday by my client, Overton Power District #5, which details an extensive transmission rate and construction accord with NV Energy. This agreement not only provides for a new 230 kV transmission interconnection to Overton’s retail consumers — addressing a significant reliability concern for the service territory — but it ensures that just and reasonable rates and terms of service govern the past, current and future relationship with Overton’s transmission provider. Congratulations to Mendis Cooper and his fantastic team, Board Chairwoman Metz and the entire Board of Overton on reaching this milestone and having the resolve to see this through. Off to FERC!
I am delighted to share the news of my client, Trico Electric Cooperative, Inc.’s, acquisition of the Avión Solar facility in Marana, Arizona. The Notice to Proceed was issued today, and upon its commercial operations in December 2018 the project will be used to offset approximately 4.5% of Trico’s overall energy needs. This is a bold step into solar by a distribution cooperative.
March Counsel represents Trico in all aspects of the development and financing of the Avión Solar project. The project is being developed in collaboration with Torch Clean Energy. Congratulations to Trico’s and Torch’s hard working team on this milestone!
In its ongoing battle over compensation for its coal and nuclear generating assets in PJM, FirstEnergy sent a letter to Secretary Rick Perry today asking him to immediately intervene and issue an emergency order under section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act. The order would require “(i) the subject baseload nuclear and coal-fired generators to enter into contracts and all necessary arrangements with PJM, on a plant-by-plant basis, to generate, deliver, interchange, and transmit electric energy, capacity, and ancillary services to maintain fuel diversity and grid dependability and resiliency within the PJM region and (ii) PJM to pay such qualifying generating facilities just and reasonable cost-based rates that provide for full cost recovery consistent with ratemaking standards and principles or as otherwise necessary to ensure continued operations. In addition, the order should direct PJM to begin negotiating immediately with such generators on the terms of such supply.”
A copy of the letter can be found here.
Eight (8) emergency orders have been issued under section 202(c) in the last 18 years, including two in 2017 by Secretary Perry. A full list of these section 202(c) orders can be found here.
This effort falls on the heels of the failed attempt for a rulemaking through the FERC, which was converted to a data collection docket by the Commission in January 2018. The RTOs and ISOs submitted their initial comments earlier this month (Docket No. AD18-7), and briefs from the industry are due May 9th.
As blame for the looming shutdown of the Federal government is punted back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, I have received several inquiries as to what will happen with FERC as of 11:59 PM tonight in the absence of a Continuing Resolution passed by the Senate. The short answer is: FERC has a plan. In fact, you can read it here.
In a nutshell, FERC will use its available funds to maintain normal operations, and when such funds are gone, will reduce its staff to 49 employees, 18 contractors and the 5 Commissioners (from a total of nearly 1,500 employees) to perform “excepted” operations. These excepted activities include: (i) formal actions by the Commission, (ii) inspection of hydroelectric and LNG projects, (iii) reliability monitoring and threats to infrastructure, (iv) market monitoring (for urgent matters only), (v) legal advice to the Commissioners and excepted personnel and matters before courts that are not stayed or otherwise deferred, and (vi) maintaining IT and security for the Commission’s facilities.
Business will be as usual on Monday. But as the Commission starts it shutdown, FERC will let the public know when it will cease accepting filings and postpone deadlines, or otherwise curtail its services, and it will also advise as to when it will furlough employees. FERC will then whittle itself down to the excepted activities. Plan accordingly!
This will certainly not be the first government shutdown affecting FERC. Over the last 4 decades, there were seven very short shutdowns under President Reagan, one under President Bush, two under President Clinton, and one under President Obama. The longest two shutdowns by far are the most recent (21 days in 1996 under President Clinton and 16 days in 2013 under President Obama).
On January 10th, a group of attorney generals, state agencies and consumer advocates from 16 states filed a letter with FERC requesting that the Commission look into the impact of the recently enacted Tax Cut and Jobs Act on regulated electric, natural gas and oil pipelines. A copy of the letter can be found here.
The letter expresses concern that, as a result of the reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent and as a result of ratemaking treatment associated with accumulated deferred income tax (ADIT) recovered from customer, FERC-jurisdictional rates are excessive and producing windfall to certain utilities. Citing FERC Order No. 475, a 1987 order addressing the changes resulting from the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the states “call[ed] upon the Commission to use its experience and expertise, with stakeholder input, to determine appropriate procedural mechanisms to discover information about the scope of over-collections at issue, the types of voluntary rate reductions or refunds that can be implemented by the Public Utilities in an expedited manner under existing Commission rules and precedent, and the best way to ensure that customers are not harmed by any delay in making the appropriate changes.”
These windfalls are occurring in both stated and formula rates. While formula rates typically input the prevailing federal income tax rate and will ultimately adjust (if the formula is one that contains a true-up mechanism), the level of detail to appropriately account for ADIT is typically lacking. Stated rates, or black box rates resolved through settlement, would not make any such accommodation. For example, a FERC-regulated open access transmission tariff rate may have been resolved in 2013 by settlement, and presumably predicated on the prevailing federal tax laws at that time. Such rates will not change until adjusted by a filing by that utility or a complaint by interested stakeholders (or the Commission itself). FERC’s principal statutes (the Federal Power Act, the Natural Gas Act, and the Interstate Commerce Act) provide the ability to get relief, but that relief is prospective.
Some utilities are working diligently to get ahead of the issues and provide relief to their customers. The January 10 letter cites to efforts by regulated utilities to reduce retail rates to give back customers any savings garnered from the tax change.
Undoubtedly, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act will be adding to the Commission’s significant caseload in the months and years to come, and result in a significant number of rate cases.
FERC held its first open meeting with Chairman McIntyre at the helm and a full complement of Commissioners at his side. A series of staff appointments and key staff retirements were announced, and a full complement of orders were voted on, both by consent and discussion agenda. All the Commissioners voted unanimously on the orders issued. The meeting was peppered with some levity, including Commissioner LaFleur presenting Commissioner Chatterjee with a Ziploc bag of pulverized coal in recognition of his brief tenure as Chairman and his affinity for the DOE-initiated Grid Reliability and Resilience Pricing rule that the Commission will act upon in January.
Substantively, the Commission touched on three major policy initiatives:
- FERC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) under Section 215 of the Federal Power Act directing NERC to modify the existing CIP Reliability Standards to improve reporting of cybersecurity incidents that compromise, or attempt yo compromise Electronic Security Perimeters or Electronic Access Control or Monitoring Systems.
- FERC closed its NOPR on Fast Start Resource Pricing without issuing a rule applicable to all RTO/ISOs, and instead initiated three Section 206 proceedings affecting NYISO, PJM and SPP, with customized issue identification for each, and initial briefs due in 45 days and reply briefs 30 days thereafter.
- FERC announced that it will make review of its 1999 Policy Statement on Certification of New Interstate Natural Gas Pipeline Facilities a priority.
Chairman McIntyre announced his initial staff appointments, comprised of a team of existing staffers from the Office of Electric Markets Regulation, Office of General Counsel, and Office of Enforcement. He did not make any announcements of other key appointments, including who will lead the Office of Enforcement or who will replace retiring Chief Accountant Bryan Craig moving forward.
As this will likely be my last insight of 2017, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
By pure happenstance, I was at FERC today for a settlement conference and was able to watch Mr. McIntyre be sworn in as the next Chairman of the FERC. Apologies for the grainy cell phone video and the heavy breather that apparently was picked up on my camera audio, but I wanted to share his remarks with you since it did not appear that there was any other video being taken in the room. If you have trouble watching through this post, you can click here and you will be taken to Vimeo.
Richard Glick was sworn in as a Commissioner at FERC this morning, according to a FERC press release. His term will expire in June 2022. Mr. Glick will join Cheryl LaFleur as the Commission’s Democratic presence.
Kevin McIntyre is still waiting in the wings to take his seat as a Commissioner and Chairman. As of this morning, he is still listed on the Jones Day website as a partner and energy practice leader. While some have developed intricate conspiracy theories related to current Chairman Chatterjee’s pro-Administration position on the Grid Resiliency and Pricing Rule (Docket No. RM18-1, which will see action by December 11th), Mr. Chatterjee himself is simply chalking up the delay to completion of paperwork and Mr. McIntyre unwinding his professional obligations.
As a practitioner, it has been great to see the Commission back in action, and clearing its significant backlog of orders caused by the lack of quorum. With a tax bill and budget showdown looming, it would be a shame to have that progress hindered by a Federal government shutdown, which could occur at midnight on December 8th.