by Jacob Hollinger and Bethany Hatef

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a proposed rule concerning carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new coal-fired and natural gas-fired power plants. The September 20 proposal meets a deadline set by President Obama in a June 25 Presidential Memorandum and keeps EPA on track to meet the President’s June 2015 deadline for regulating emissions from existing power plants. Once the September 20 proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, interested parties will have 60 days to comment on it. 

Under EPA’s September 20 proposal, which replaces an earlier, April 2012 proposal, new coal plants would be limited to 1,100 pounds of CO2 emissions per megawatt-hour (lbs/MWh) of electricity produced, with compliance measured on a 12-operating month rolling average basis.  The proposed rule would also require new small natural gas plants to meet a 1,100 lbs/MWh emission limit, while requiring larger, more efficient natural gas units to meet a limit of 1,000 lbs/MWh. 

EPA is required to set emission limits for new plants at a level that reflects use of the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) that it determines has been “adequately demonstrated.”  For coal, EPA has determined that the BSER is installation of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology that captures some of the CO2 released by burning coal.  In essence, EPA is saying partial CCS is the BSER for new coal plants. But for gas, EPA is saying that the BSER is a modern, efficient, combined cycle plant.  Thus, CCS is not required for new gas plants.

An important feature of the proposed rule is the definition of a “new” plant. Under the pertinent section of the Clean Air Act (CAA), a “new” plant is one for which construction commences after publication of a proposed rule. EPA’s regulations, in turn, define “construction” as the “fabrication, erection, or installation of an affected facility,” and define “commenced” as undertaking “a continuous program of construction” or entering “into a contractual obligation to undertake and complete, within a reasonable time, a continuous program of construction.” 

EPA has concluded that its new proposal will have “negligible” benefits and costs – it won’t reduce CO2 emissions and it won’t raise the cost of electricity. This is based on EPA’s conclusion that even in the absence of the new proposed rule, all foreseeable new fossil fuel plants will be either modern, efficient combined cycle natural gas plants or coal plants that have CCS. In essence, EPA is proposing emission limits that it thinks would be met even in the absence of new regulations.

But if the rule won’t reduce CO2 emissions, why issue it?  First, EPA is of the view that it is required by the CAA to issue the rule; having already determined that CO2 emissions are endangering public health and welfare, EPA is required by § 111(b) of the CAA to publish regulations to address those emissions.  Second, EPA thinks the rule will provide regulatory certainty about what is expected of new plants.  Third, and perhaps most importantly, the rule setting performance standards for new plants is a necessary prerequisite to regulating CO2 emissions from existing plants.

by Carsten Steinhauer

Law Decree no. 69 of 21 June 2013 (theDecree), published in the Official Gazette on 21 June 2013  would expand significantly the application of the “Robin Hood Tax” on electricity production companies, including renewable energy companies (solar, wind and biomass) originally exempt from the tax, by lowering the turnover and taxable income thresholds.

The “Robin Hood Tax” was originally introduced by Section 81, Paragraph 16 of Law Decree no. 112 of 2008, converted by Law no. 133 of 2008.  It provided for a 6.5 per cent increase of the corporate income tax rate (IRES) payable by electricity production companies other than renewables with annual gross revenues exceeding Euro 25 million.

Earlier, Law Decree no. 138 of 2011, converted by Law no. 148 of 14 September 2011, eliminated the exemption for renewable energy companies and reduced the annual gross revenue threshold to Euro 10 million, provided the electricity production company had a taxable income of Euro 1 million.

The new Decree further reduces the gross revenue and taxable income thresholds so that the “Robin Hood Tax” would apply to any energy production company, including renewable energy companies, with:

  • gross revenues in the preceding year of more than Euro 3 million
  • taxable income for the same year of more than Euro 300,000

The additional tax only applies to legal entities that are organised as corporations and are therefore taxable pursuant to Article 73 of the Consolidated Income Tax Code, but does not apply to special purpose vehicles (SPVs) that are organised as limited partnerships.

If confirmed by the Italian Parliament, these changes will increase the IRES for a great number of renewable energy production companies that initially had been exempt from the “Robin Hood Tax.”   In order to become definite, the Decree—which was enacted by the Italian Government—must be converted into law by the Italian Parliament.  The timeline for conversion is 60 days, i.e., 20 August 2013, and the Italian Parliament is entitled to make amendments to the Decree.  Provided that the Italian Parliament confirms the current wording of Section 5, Paragraph 1 of the Decree, renewable energy companies that exceed the new turnover and income thresholds in 2014 will have to pay the increased IRES of 34 per cent, instead of 27.5 per cent.

It is worth noting that the compatibility of the “Robin Hood Tax” with the Italian Constitution has been challenged and an action is currently pending before the Constitutional Court.  In particular, the “Robin Hood Tax” would seem to be in breach of the principles of equality and contribution pursuant to economic capabilities.  The Constitutional Court has not yet scheduled a date for the hearing so that it is impossible to foresee when a decision will be made.

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.

by Carsten Steinhauer

On January 20, 2012, Gestore dei Servizi Energetici (GSE), the publicly-owned company that promotes renewable energy sources in Italy, announced that the budget for the second half of 2012 for large solar photovoltaic (PV) plants has already been used up by excessive demand in 2011. Consequently, there will be no registration procedure for the second half of 2012, and large PV solar plants that have not been registered previously with the GSE will only be eligible for the 2013 feed-in tariff.

The Fourth Italian Feed-In Tariffs system (the so called “Fourth Conto Energia”) established the following budgets for large solar PV plants between June 2011 and December 2012:

  1/06/2011 – 31/12/2011 1st Half 2012 2nd Half 2012

TOTAL

Feed-in Premium Budget 300M 150M 130M 580M
Indicative Cumulative Nominal Power 1.200MW 770MW 720MW 2.690MW

In order to ensure the fair distribution of the budgets for 2011–2012, the Fourth Conto Energia introduced a procedure of registration, and subsequent ranking by the GSE of the registered plants for each of the three periods, based on certain priority criteria.

The Fourth Conto Energia affirmed that the budget for the second half of 2012 will be reduced by the excess amount awarded to large PV plants that began operating between June 1 and August, 31, 2011, or registered with the GSE between September 2011 and December 2011. Accordingly, the budget for the second half of 2012 has been reduced to zero, and the GSE will not start the procedure for new registrations.

As a consequence of this development, PV projects that are defined as “large PV plants” that have not obtained a favorable ranking in one of the GSE registers in 2011, or in the first half of 2012, will now only be eligible for the 2013 feed-in tariff. In fact, the GSE has clarified that those PV plants that started operations in 2012 without being ranked in a GSE register will be deemed to have started operations on January 1, 2013, and will therefore obtain the 2013 feed-in tariff for the 20 years starting January 1, 2013.

Unlike the 2012 feed-in premium, the 2013 feed-in tariff will already include the price for the sale of electricity. For, instance, the all-inclusive feed-in tariff for PV plants with nominal peak power above 1 MW will be as follows:

 

PV Plants Installed on Buildings

Other PV Plants

1000<P<5000 kWp

0.227 /kWh

0.205 /kWh

P>5000 kWp

0.218 /kWh

0.199 /kWh

“Small PV plants” (i.e. <1000 kWp on rooftops / ground mounted <200 kWp using net-metering system / placed on buildings or areas owned by the public sector) are not subject to the budget restrictions and will be eligible for the incentive.