In an opinion 1 issued January 8, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it determined that Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) was eligible for an incentive adder to its transmission return on equity (ROE) for remaining a member of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). The court reasoned that FERC had misinterpreted its own landmark orders—Orders No. 679 and 679-A2 —which provide that FERC will award incentive adders on a “case-by-case basis”3 on the presumption that membership in an independent system operator or regional transmission organization (each a “transmission organization”), such as CAISO, is voluntary.4 The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) challenged FERC’s decision to grant PG&E an incentive ROE adder on the grounds that PG&E’s membership in CAISO was not, in fact, voluntary, and that PG&E required authorization from CPUC to withdraw from CAISO.
One of the big Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Enforcement litigation developments of the past two years has been the federal judiciary’s rejection of the agency’s “de novo review” position in electricity market manipulation cases. Briefly stated, FERC has argued that the Federal Power Act (FPA) should be interpreted to allow federal courts to adjudicate an enforcement action by reviewing FERC’s Order Assessing Penalties and underlying record, allowing supplementation of that record through additional discovery only as the court found necessary or useful. Courts, however, have held that there is no such FPA-mandated review action of that nature, but rather only a civil action that proceeds under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure—including, most importantly, the civil discovery rules.1
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Enforcement (Enforcement) recently released its annual Report on Enforcement for the 2017 fiscal year. The Report takes a similar approach to prior annual reports in how it describes Enforcement’s work and priorities, provides statistics on Enforcement activities, and includes examples of non-public Enforcement matters that were closed without action. The Report reflects a busy year in Enforcement, with staff having opened 27 new investigations, worked on over 50, and litigated several market manipulation cases in federal district courts. This year’s Report also provides increased transparency into Enforcement’s market surveillance and analytics program, through which Enforcement conducts market screens and surveillance inquiries into possible market manipulation in electricity and natural gas markets. Many FERC Commissioners have urged market participants to study the annual report for guidance on how the Commission approaches compliance and enforcement.
For a more detailed summary of the Report and key highlights, please see our client alert, available here.
On November 13, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit held in Allco Renewable Energy Ltd. v. Mass. Elec. Co.1 that a Qualifying Facility (QF) does not have a private right of action against a utility company under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). Although the court’s finding is no surprise, it helps clarify PURPA’s complex enforcement mechanism.
On September 19, 2017, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina (“Court”) held that companies that install solar panels on customer rooftops are “public utilities” under state law, at least when they retain ownership of the panel and sell the output to the customer. The ruling represents a blow to potential solar providers, and a victory for North Carolina’s franchised utilities, which believe that rooftop solar will undermine their rate base, increasing expenses for other customers.
Large-scale solar development is big business, and solar EPC Contracts are big business by association. In Q2 2017, the U.S. solar market installed 2,387 MWdc, an 8% increase year-over-year, and the largest second quarter everi. Utility PV accounted for 58% of those installations, making that the seventh consecutive quarter that the utility-scale space added more than 1 GWdcii. In today’s solar market, there is significant competition among project developers in search of debt lending and equity investment partners. This means that in order to develop a competitive edge, developers need to prepare a solar project with the strongest level of guaranteed revenue in order to increase the likelihood of selling the project to such potential debt and equity companies. Given that the majority of a solar project’s capital expenditure is EPC costs (approximately 70%-90%)iii, the cornerstone of any bankable solar project is a properly negotiated EPC Contract. As such, developers must offer lenders and investment partners bankable EPC Contracts that centralize the responsibility for meeting many of the perceived challenges associated with a big solar project and make the risk profile of the entire solar project more attractive to such potential partners. This article identifies the five fundamental risks facing any project developer in an EPC Contract and lays out an easy to use checklist of legal and commercial tools to mitigate them and to ensure the developer is able to present debt lenders and equity investors with the most bankable EPC Contract possible - one that is the most likely to deliver a well-performing solar project on time and on budget.
On June 9, 2017, Beaver Creek Wind II, LLC and Beaver Creek Wind III, LLC (together, “Beaver Creek”) responded to a deficiency letter from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the “Commission”) staff seeking further information on Beaver Creek’s calculation of the “one-mile” rule in its applications for certification as qualifying small power production facilities (QFs). At issue is Beaver Creek’s proposed “weighted geographic center” methodology used to calculate the distance between wind projects consisting of multiple pieces of geographically dispersed electric generating equipment (i.e., wind turbines) for the purposes of applying the one-mile rule under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). With a potential FERC quorum on the horizon, the instant case provides the new FERC commissioners with an opportunity to establish a preferred methodology, if any, for measuring one mile for purposes of PURPA. As such, the outcome could have immediate impacts for renewable energy project developers, particularly those developing wind projects, as they perform due diligence on property selection and equipment siting when planning multiple projects.
(Houston) – On June 14, Akin Gump lawyers held the firm’s semiannual energy briefing in its Houston office, with guests in attendance at the event as well as via webinar around the world.