by Bradford K. Gathright

On April 20, 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an order confirming that it has no jurisdiction under the Federal Power Act (FPA) with respect to sales of state-issued renewable energy credits (RECs) that are not bundled with sales of wholesale energy, but asserted that it does have jurisdiction over sales of RECs that are bundled with wholesale energy.

The ruling was in response to a request by the Western Systems Power Pool (WSPP) for FERC to clarify the scope of its jurisdiction. WSPP administers a standardized contract, called the WSPP Agreement, for the sale of wholesale electric power and physical options between its members. The WSPP Agreement allows a seller to charge market prices in energy transactions if the seller has received market based rate authority from FERC or if the seller is not regulated by FERC. Otherwise, the price is subject to rate caps set forth in the applicable FERC-approved rate schedule to the WSPP Agreement.

On February 22, 2012, WSPP submitted for approval under Section 205 of the FPA a revised service schedule to the WSPP Agreement, Service Schedule R, to address several varieties of bundled and unbundled REC transactions. For bundled REC transactions, the rate caps set forth in the existing service schedules of the WSPP Agreement would apply only to the energy portion of the contract price if the total price was allocated separately between energy and RECs, or to the total contract price if there were no separate allocations. With regard to unbundled REC transactions, the WSPP requested that FERC confirm its lack of jurisdiction.

In its order, FERC approved the incorporation of Service Schedule R into the WSPP Agreement and confirmed that sales of RECs that are not bundled with sales of wholesale energy fall outside FERC’s jurisdiction under Sections 201, 205 and 206 of the FPA. FERC’s rationale was that a REC is simply an instrument of state law certifying that energy has been generated pursuant to certain standards, and that the sale of a REC does not constitute the transmission of electric energy or the sale of energy in interstate commerce. However, when RECs are bundled with sales of energy, the REC transaction falls within FERC’s jurisdiction because the REC sales “affect” and are “in connection with” the wholesale energy sales. Under these circumstances, FERC asserted that it has jurisdiction over both the wholesale energy portion and the REC portion of the bundled transaction, regardless of whether the contract price is allocated separately between the energy and the RECs or whether the energy portion and the REC portion of a bundled transaction are split into two separate contracts.

The practical implications of the order are not yet clear. By extending its jurisdiction to RECs at all, FERC has expanded its reach and now has the authority to create additional requirements relating to the REC portion of a bundled REC transaction, which could increase the administrative and financial burden of selling RECs. For power producers who are selling bundled RECs and already have market based rates, the order will likely not have much of a practical impact, other than perhaps changing how bundled RECs are described in periodic FERC reports, a subject that has not yet been addressed.