FERC recently issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) that would eliminate the need for electric power sellers with market-based rate authority who sell into certain independent system operator (ISO) and regional transmission organization (RTO) capacity markets to file two screens—the pivotal supplier screen and wholesale market-share screen—with FERC, which would simplify the horizontal market power analysis for sellers in those markets.

This proposed modification of the horizontal market power analysis would apply in any RTO/ISO market with RTO/ISO-administered energy, ancillary services, and capacity markets subject to FERC-approved RTO/ISO monitoring and mitigation. For RTOs and ISOs that do not have an RTO/ISO-administered capacity market, market-based rate sellers would be relieved of the requirement to submit indicative screens if their market-based rate authority is limited to sales of energy and/or ancillary services.

The NOPR, announced at FERC’s December 20, 2018 meeting, is a follow up to FERC’s Order No. 816 NOPR, and is aimed at relieving the filing burden on market-based rate sellers in RTO/ISO markets without compromising FERC’s ability to prevent the potential exercise of market power in those markets. If the NOPR were implemented, indicative screen failures in organized wholesale power markets where the grid operator does not administer a capacity market would no longer be presumed to be adequately addressed by the market monitoring and mitigation in those markets. If a screen failure were to occur, market-based sellers in those markets would be able to submit a delivered-price test or other evidence; sellers could also propose other mitigation or capacity sales. All market-based sellers would still be required to file a vertical market power analysis and an asset appendix which provides comprehensive information relevant to determining a seller’s market power. The appendix would be required to include generators owned or controlled by the seller and its affiliates, long-term firm power purchase agreements, electric transmission assets, and natural gas facilities.

The NOPR would simplify the horizontal market power analysis electric power sellers are required to complete to obtain market-based rate authority. The NOPR would apply to sellers doing business in ISO-NE, MISO, NYISO, and PJM, which all have a capacity market that includes market monitoring and mitigation. Entities in Cal-ISO and SPP would still need to file the screens, because the NOPR would not apply to them given the lack of central capacity market with monitoring and mitigation. Sellers in ERCOT would remain unaffected because the ERCOT market is not subject to FERC’s rules.

The screens this NOPR would eliminate originated in Order No. 816 NOPR, which was issued in 2009, when ISO/RTO capacity markets had just begun operating. The three pivotal supplier test and market share screen (with a 20% threshold) serve as cross checks on each other to determine whether sellers may have market power and whether they should be more closely examined. If a seller passes both screens, a rebuttable presumption the seller did not possess horizontal market power is established. If a seller fails either screen, that failure establishes a rebuttable presumption that the seller has market power; the seller then has a chance to present evidence through a delivered price test analysis or other evidence to show the seller does not have market power, despite the screen failure.

No other market-based rate regulatory reporting requirements would be affected by the proposed order.

Comments on this NOPR are due 45 days after publication in the Federal Register, and may be filed in Docket No. RM19-2-000, Refinements to Horizontal Market Power Analysis for Sellers in Certain Regional Transmission Organization and Independent System Operator Markets.

Please contact Linda Walsh or Sylvia Bartell if you have any questions.

In the latest of the eight-part Renewable Energy Projects Webinar Series, Husch Blackwell’s Chris Reeder and Linda Walsh will discuss the federal and state regulatory approvals often required for typical wind and solar energy projects. They will address the circumstances under which such regulatory approvals are required and the timing needed to apply for and receive the approvals. In addition, they will highlight the issues that commonly arise throughout the approval process.

Register here for the webinar on December 14, 2018, 12:00pm – 1:00pm CST.

If you missed previous installments of the Renewable Energy Projects Webinar Series, a description and link to the recording for each previous installment is listed below.

#1 Transaction Overview – In this first installment of the series, Husch Blackwell attorneys walk through the main stages of a development project at a high level. After a wild end to 2017 and a new tax code, the renewable energy industry adjusted for 2018 and beyond. Margins narrowed and companies searched for efficient, effective ways to cut costs. Listen now.

#2 EPC, O&M and Asset Management Agreements – In the second installment of the series, Husch Blackwell attorneys focus on best practices with respect to Engineering Procurement and Construction (“EPC”) Contracts, Operations and Maintenance (“O&M”) Agreements and Asset Management Agreements. The conversation provides an overview of key agreement provisions and how they can protect against recurrent issues as well as special considerations for negotiating and administering these agreements. Listen now.

#3 Transaction Structuring – HB attorneys discuss how renewable energy project developers can best position themselves during a project’s acquisition and development phases for a successful financing process. Presenters summarize the current PTC and ITC landscape and key qualification components, as well as examine the commercial and legal considerations a developer must keep in mind to ensure that the development and construction of its project stays on schedule and eligible for 100% of the value of available tax credits. Listen now.

#4 Site Assembly – In the fourth installment, HB attorneys discuss best practices for early- and mid-stage site control efforts that will save time and money in later stages, as well as how to avoid common pitfalls. Presenters provide a practical checklist and other tools that can be used during site development to help ensure that due diligence efforts at financing or sale of the project go smoothly. Listen now.

#5 Project Permitting – Husch Blackwell Environmental attorneys discuss the federal, state and local environmental and development permits required for typical wind and solar energy projects. They address the circumstances that trigger the need for a permit, the studies and assessments that are generally performed to evaluate the applicability of permitting requirements, and the timing to apply for and obtain permits. Listen now.

#6 Project Acquisition and Disposition – HB attorneys discuss current issues that arise in the acquisition and disposition of renewable energy projects and how to increase efficiencies throughout the life of the transaction. They address common issues that typically require significant negotiation between the parties, as well as novel issues that require thoughtful consideration, planning and negotiation. Listen now.

#7 Federal and State Regulatory Approvals – Register for the webinar on December 14, 2018, 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Central.
More Info and Registration link

#8 – Purchase Power Agreements (Coming in January 2019)

A new legislation signed into law in August, the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA), will expand vastly the types of foreign investment transactions that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”) may review. Under the new law, a wide range of foreign investments affecting the U.S. energy sector will be subject to the federal scrutiny.

Overview of the CFIUS Review Process

CFIUS has the authority to review “covered transactions” that might raise national security concern. CFIUS is a US government interagency process, chaired by the Treasury Department. Under the previous law, a “covered transaction” is one that results in foreign control over a U.S. business engaged in interstate commerce, and CFIUS is interested in reviewing a transaction if it raises risk of impairing national security, where the foreign entity is controlled by a foreign government, or if it involves any “critical infrastructure” that could impair the national security.

Critical infrastructure has been defined to mean “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.” Through a series of directives, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has identified 16 sectors of the economy as with assets potentially critical to the U.S. infrastructure, including the energy sector.

For each transaction that it reviews, CFIUS’s analysis considers:

  • Threat – whether the foreign acquirer has the capability or intent to exploit or cause harm;
  • Vulnerability – whether the nature of the US target asset creates susceptibility to impairment of national security;
  • Consequences – to US national security of the combination of the threat and vulnerability

This process may result in transactions being suspended, blocked, or modified.

Expansion of “Covered Transactions”

Previously the CFIUS only had jurisdiction to review foreign investments or acquisitions that could result in foreign control over a U.S. Business. After FIRRMA, the new legislation now calls for CFIUS to review a wide range of non-controlling investments made by foreign persons. Among the expanded categories of “covered transactions,” what is particularly relevant to the energy sector is that FIRRMA directs CFIUS to review all investments in US businesses that own, operate, manufacture, supply, or service “critical infrastructure” such as electricity transmission line, pipelines, oil and gas facilities, nuclear, hygro and other power plants, or US businesses that produces, designs, tests, manufactures, fabricates, or develops “critical technologies.” Such foreign investments, even though non-controlling, are subject to review if they afford the foreign person access to any material non-public technical information, membership or observer rights on the board of directors, or any involvement (other than through voting of shares) in substantive decision-making of the business in connection with critical infrastructure or critical technology.

FIRMMA provides the general contours for CFIUS reform, but not the specifics. To achieve broad-based support among competing interests and various US agency members of CFIUS, many concepts of FIRRMA, and especially key definitions relevant to the expansion of the non-controlling “covered transactions” relevant to the “critical infrastructure” and “critical technologies,” are left subject to the regulations to be prescribed by CFIUS. For example, FIRRMA continues to define “critical technologies” to mean “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and asses would have a debilitating impact on national security.” And what type of assets will meet this bar are subject to interpretation in the regulations to be prescribed by the Committee. Congress also deferred to CFIUS to prescribe regulations to limit the application of the expanded “covered transactions” to “certain categories of foreign persons.” How broad or narrow those “categories of foreign persons” are and what criteria CFIUS will use to define the categories, remain to be seen.

FIRRMA contains an important carve-out for indirect investments made by a foreign person into an investment fund. In particular, an indirect investment does not constitute investment subject to CFIUS jurisdiction if the investment fund is managed exclusively by a non-foreign general partner; any advisory board membership associated with the investment does not come with an ability to control the fund’s investments or the activities of any portfolio company; and the indirect investor does not as result of advisory board membership, gain access to “material nonpublic technical information.

Declarations – Fast Track Process

One of the most important procedural reforms of FIRRMA is to allow the more simplified “declaration” process for parties who wish to submit them. These declarations will be shorter than fully written notices (i.e., no more than five pages), and FIRRMA requires that CFIUS provide responses to declarations within 30 days. CFIUS may notify the parties that they should file a compete notice, initiate a full review on its own, or clear the transaction. This could be used as a fast track process for parties with less sensitive transactions to secure a confirmatory declaration with a much shorter process.

Effects on CFIUS Filing Process

While FIRRMA aims at reforms that enhance the protection of national security, it does continue to emphasize on the value of continued attraction of foreign investment into the U.S. To that end FIRRMA pointedly directs, that the CFIUS should continue to review transactions for the purpose of protecting national security, and should not consider commercial purposes, or to advance trade or other industrial policy goals.

Some FIRRMA changes to the review process came into effect immediately upon enactment, but the most significant changes will only take into effect until CFIUS certifies the implementing regulations. For example, the expanded “covered transactions” relating to “critical infrastructure” does not go into effect until the implementing regulation is adopted or a pilot program is put in place.