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FERC Commissioner Moeller Convenes Public Meeting Focusing on Resolving Natural Gas Supply Challenges for Electric Generators

Commissioner Philip Moeller of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held a public meeting on September 18, 2014 to discuss ideas to facilitate and improve the way in which natural gas is traded and to explore the concept of establishing a centralized natural gas trading platform.  Although not an official FERC conference, the ideas at issue were an extension of FERC’s recent focus on gas-electric coordination.  During the well-attended meeting, Commissioner Moeller presided over a large roundtable discussion of stakeholders, including electric generation owners, natural gas producers, pipelines and marketers, who engaged in a spirited discussion of whether natural gas supplies are meeting the needs of electric generators and improvement in supply practices.  The central focus of the meeting was the creation of a natural gas information and trading platform containing bids and offers for the purchase and sale of commodity and capacity for receipt and delivery on points across multiple pipeline systems.

Participants agreed that the natural gas industry is evolving and an increasing share of natural gas is being supplied to electric generators—customers with different needs than the local distribution companies the natural gas pipeline industry was traditionally designed to serve.  Most participants further agreed that the needs of generators do not always align with pipelines’ traditional services.

Natural gas-fired generation owners voiced concerns regarding unknown or unreasonable commercial terms in pipeline service agreements, a lack of transparency surrounding available services and illiquidity in the natural gas market.  Pipeline representatives highlighted the availability of new services such as extra nomination cycles, no-notice service and the ability to reverse flow as examples of services intended to accommodate generators.  Nevertheless, the pipeline representatives also made the point that natural gas liquidity is outside pipelines’ control as they do not have title to the gas they transport.  Marketers and organized exchange representatives added that they have been responding to generators’ needs by making available bespoke products and exploring new standardized products to match generators’ demands.

In addressing possible solutions to transparency and liquidity problems, most meeting participants urged incremental change and expressed a preference for industry solutions over FERC’s regulatory intervention.  Electric generators preferred increased use of non-ratable service, no-notice service and new, shaped products.  Other proposals included eliminating the shipper-must-have-title rule, facilitating competition between capacity release and pipeline overrun services and encouraging generators to purchase firm transportation service rather than interruptible service.

FERC has established a docket number to allow interested parties to file written comments on any issue that was discussed at the meeting.  Comments are limited to five pages and are due by October 1, 2014.




Appeals Court Validates FERC Regional Planning Mandate as Reasoned Evolution of the Open-Access Electricity Transmission System

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Order No. 1000 mandate that going forward the high-voltage electric transmission grid be planned and fairly financed regionally by all of its operators and beneficiaries, survived myriad challenges from 45 petitioners in the unanimous August 15 decision of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in South Carolina Public Service Authority v. FERC.  The rigorous 97-page opinion rejected challenges coming from all directions to the 2011 rulemaking entitled “Transmission Planning and Cost Allocation by Transmission Owning and Operating Public Utilities.”

According to the panel, nearly all of the challenges misapprehended Order No. 1000’s regional planning mandate.  The court repeatedly emphasized that Order No. 1000’s mandate is nothing new, but rather the next step in evolving efforts under section 206 of the Federal Power Act to combat undue discrimination.  That evolution, the panel explained, began in 1996 when Orders No. 888 and No. 889 required that electricity transmission be “unbundled” from sales and offered via the internet pursuant to open-access tariffs, and 11 years later continued in Order No. 890’s directive that a transmission provider standardize how it measures available transmission capacity and open to its customers the process for planning transmission upgrades and expansions.

The panel’s decision affirmed FERC’s authority to require each of the key elements that FERC prescribed for regional transmission planning.  Those elements include:

  • All public utility transmission providers are required to participate in a regional planning process, and non-public utilities such as cooperative or municipal utilities effectively must also participate pursuant to a reciprocity requirement carried forward from Order No. 888.
  • The planning process must include procedures for taking into account federal, state and local laws and regulations affecting transmission, such as federal air quality rules and state or local renewable portfolio standards.
  • Transmission tariffs must be amended to remove provisions that confer on the incumbent transmission provider a right of first refusal to construct, own, and operate new regional transmission, thereby opening the regional process to input, innovation, and investment from non-incumbents and new entrants, subject to state and local restrictions on siting and eminent domain.
  • A methodology must be added to transmission tariffs for allocating up-front the cost of new regional transmission facilities, consistent with six principles, including a causation principle directing that the allocation be roughly commensurate with the benefits received by those consumers required to pay, and a prohibition on one region allocating costs to its neighbors without their advance consent.

FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur promptly praised the panel’s decision upholding Order No. 1000 in its entirety as critical for inducing the “substantial investment in transmission infrastructure [needed] to adapt to changes in its resource mix and environmental policies.”  In its decision the panel noted that the electric industry in 2008 estimated the infrastructure investment needed at $298 billion between 2010 and 2030.

Following FERC’s lead, the panel chose not rule at this time on challenges that elements of the regional planning mandate violate the Mobile-Sierra [...]

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D.C. Circuit Rules that FERC May Not Segment Its Evaluation of the Environmental Impact of Related Natural Gas Pipeline Construction Projects, Regardless of Whether They Are Separately Proposed

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion holding that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it segmented its evaluation of the environmental impact of four separately proposed but connected projects to upgrade the “300 Line” on the Eastern Leg of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company’s natural gas pipeline system.  Going forward, the court’s ruling will likely compel proponents of interrelated or complimentary pipeline projects to seek their certification on a consolidated basis and will require FERC to evaluate their cumulative impact.

Tennessee Gas’s challenged Northeast Project was the third of four proposed upgrade projects to expand capacity on the existing Eastern Leg of the 300 Line.  The Northeast Project added only 40 miles of pipeline, while the four proposed projects combined to add approximately 200 miles of looped pipeline.  FERC approved Tennessee Gas’s first proposed upgrade, the “300 Line Project,” in May 2010.  While that project was under construction, Tennessee Gas proposed three additional projects to fill gaps left by the 300 Line Project, one of which was the Northeast Project.   As part of its review of the Northeast Project, FERC issued an Environmental Assessment (EA) required by NEPA that recommended a Finding of No Significant Impact.  The EA for the Northeast Project, however, addressed only the Northeast Project’s environmental impact without reviewing the cumulative impact of all four projects.

The D.C. Circuit held that FERC was in error for failing to consider the cumulative impact.  Under NEPA, the D.C. Circuit explained, FERC must consider all connected and cumulative actions.  The D.C. Circuit found no “logical termini,” or rational endpoints to divide the four projects and found the projects were not financially independent.  Rather, the court found the Northeast Project was “inextricably intertwined” with the other three improvement projects that, taken together, upgraded the entire Eastern Leg of the 300 Line.  The court held that FERC must analyze the cumulative impact of the four projects and remanded the case to FERC for consideration.

The Court emphasized that in this case, “FERC was plainly aware of the physical, functional, and financial links between the two projects.”  Regardless of whether an interstate pipeline initially plans to embark on a series of related upgrades, once FERC is aware of the interrelatedness of proposed expansion projects, it must take care to review any cumulative environmental impacts that may arise.

The D.C. Circuit’s decision may also be a warning that FERC must pay greater attention to the NEPA review in pipeline construction projects.  The D.C. Circuit also has before it this term a case alleging that FERC did not sufficiently consider the environmental review of the siting of a new pipeline compressor station in light of less environmentally intrusive alternatives.  See Minisink Residents for Environmental Preservation and Safety v. FERC, Case No. 12-1481.  Both cases take issue with the rigor of FERC’s environmental review under NEPA, and the D.C. Circuit’s decisions may signal a new era of increased focus on the [...]

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FERC Defers to Exclusionary State and Local Laws in Transmission Planning

In three separate rehearing orders issued last Thursday, May 15, 2014, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reversed course on its decision in Order No. 1000 to prohibit references in transmission tariffs to state laws such as rights of first refusal (ROFR) to build transmission expansions.  The Commission determined on further consideration that excluding such state and local laws from transmission tariffs could lead to inefficiencies and delays in the regional transmission planning process because regions would have to spend time and resources evaluating potential transmission developers that would ultimately be prohibited by state or local law from developing a transmission project.  Commissioner Norris issued a statement opposing the Commission’s orders on the basis that they will exclude non-incumbents from participating in the regional transmission planning process, choking innovation and insulating incumbents from competition.

Order No. 1000 requires public utilities to participate in regional transmission planning and cost allocation planning for new transmission facilities.  In order to allow competitive bidding of projects and developers, Order No. 1000 requires public utility transmission providers to remove provisions in Commission-jurisdictional tariffs that establish a federal ROFR for an incumbent transmission provider with respect to building transmission facilities selected in a regional transmission plan.  Order No. 1000-A stated that it was not “intended to preempt or otherwise conflict with state authority over sitting, permitting, and construction of transmission facilities.”  However, the order also stated that it “would be an impermissible barrier to entry to require, as part of the qualification criteria, that a transmission developer demonstrate that it either has, or can obtain, state approvals necessary . . . to be eligible to propose a transmission facility.”

On rehearing of compliance orders for the PJM Interconnection, Midcontinent Independent System Operator and South Carolina Electric & Gas Company, the Commission held that while it will continue to require the elimination of federal ROFRs, regional operators and utilities could recognize exclusionary state and local laws and regulations as a threshold issue in the regional transmission planning process.  Specifically, the rehearing orders provided that tariffs could include state and local laws, giving incumbent utilities ROFRs and provisions excluding projects that alter the transmission providers’ use or control of rights-of-way.  The Commission reasoned that ignoring these state or local laws or regulations at the outset of the regional transmission planning process would be counterproductive and inefficient, and could delay needed transmission facilities.  In a dissenting statement, Commissioner Norris argued that this approach was irreconcilable with Order No. 1000 and condemns consumers to bear the burden of incumbents’ lack of innovation in developing transmission solutions and interest in preserving the status quo.




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