by Ari Peskoe
On September 30, a Federal District Court Judge for Maryland declared that the state’s incentive scheme to encourage the construction of new gas-fired generation capacity violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. By requiring incumbent utilities to supplement PJM’s market-clearing prices with payments to the developer of a new gas-fired generator, the Judge determined that Maryland’s incentive scheme impermissibly sets a wholesale rate. The Judge’s ruling may complicate states’ efforts to ensure that FERC-jurisdictional electricity markets meet the goals of individual states.
In 1999, Maryland restructured its electricity industry, requiring its investor-owned utilities to divest their generation assets and purchase electricity in federally regulated, regional wholesale markets. In 2007, at the direction of the Maryland General Assembly, the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) published a report that concluded that the state faced a critical shortage of generation capacity. According to the PSC, Maryland was located in a highly congested portion of the regional PJM market and therefore paid higher than average prices for wholesale energy. The PSC found that while the PJM markets are “structured ostensibly to create price incentives for [investment in] new generation and transmission,” the markets had not responded to the state’s “looming capacity shortage.”
Following several proceedings at the PSC, including the issuance of an RFP to construct new gas-fired capacity in Maryland, in April of 2012 the PSC issued an order directing the state’s three incumbent utilities to enter into contracts for differences (CfDs) with a developer that would construct 661 megawatts of new in-state generation capacity. Under the CfDs, the utilities would pay the developer the difference between set contract prices and the PJM clearing prices for energy and capacity. When the PJM prices were lower than the contract prices, the utilities would pay the developer. When PJM prices were higher than the contract prices, the developer would pay the utilities.
The plaintiffs – primarily existing generators – complained that the PSC’s order impermissibly regulated the price of wholesale energy sales. Such sales, they argued, may not be regulated by states because the “scheme of federal regulation . . . [is] so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the states to supplement it.” The Judge agreed, concluding that the PSC is “establish[ing] the price ultimately received [by the developer] for its physical energy and capacity sales to PJM . . . under field preemption principles, the PSC is impotent to take regulatory action to establish the price for wholesale energy and capacity sales.” In other words, the Judge concluded that the PSC set the rate and not merely that its order affected the rate by inducing the developer to bid into the PJM markets.
The Judge rejected the defendant’s argument that the CfDs merely finance construction and therefore do intrude on FERC’s ratemaking. First, to get paid under the CfDs the developer’s bids had to clear the PJM market. Payment required delivery of energy and not [...]