Technical Conference Sparks Debate Over FERC’s Legal Authority to Consider Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Pipeline Certification Review

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On November 19, 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) convened a Staff-led technical conference to discuss methods natural gas companies may use to mitigate the effects of direct and indirect greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions resulting from pipeline construction and expansion projects that are subject to Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) sections 3 and 7 authorizations by FERC (the “Conference”). The Conference included three panel discussions:  1) The Level of Mitigation for a Proposed Project’s Reasonably Foreseeable Greenhouse Gas Emissions; 2) Types of Mitigation; and 3) Compliance and Cost Recovery of Mitigation.

One of the threshold questions posed by the Commissioners, and a recurring theme throughout the conference, was whether FERC has the legal authority to consider GHG emissions as part of its certification process. Chairman Richard Glick asserted that FERC has authority to mitigate GHG emissions and that doing so will provide greater certainty for the industry, and expressed concern regarding FERC’s handling of the issue to date, given the flurry of recent decisions

Key Energy Provisions in Biden Administration’s $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed into law the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The Act earlier passed both Houses on a bipartisan basis. In conjunction with its passage, President Biden issued an Executive Order outlining the Administration’s priorities for dispersing monies from the infrastructure law, and establishing a task force that will coordinate the law’s implementation among federal agencies and state, local, and tribal governments. The task force will be jointly headed by former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Brian Deese, Director of the President’s National Economic Council, and will include the heads of the Office of Management and Budget, the Domestic Policy Council, the White House Climate Policy Office, and Cabinet members from the affected federal agencies, including the Departments of Transportation, Interior, Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The law represents the first part of the Administration’s two-pronged plan for federal investment in U.S. infrastructure. The second part, a proposed $1.85 trillion social spending

FERC Staff Recommends Natural Gas Infrastructure Winterization Measures in Light of 2021 Extreme Winter Weather Events

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), in coordination with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (“NERC”), presented its preliminary findings and recommendations at FERC’s Open Meeting on September 23 regarding its inquiry into the February 2021 Cold Weather Event in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (“ERCOT”), Southwest Power Pool, Inc. (“SPP”), and Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (“MISO”).

The February 2021 Cold Weather Event occurred from February 8 through 20, 2021, during which large numbers of generating units experienced outages, derates, or failures to start, resulting in energy and transmission emergencies. The power outages affected millions of customers throughout the ERCOT, MISO, and SPP regions. On February 16, 2021, FERC and NERC announced a joint inquiry to examine the root causes of the event.

The preliminary findings indicate that a majority of the unplanned generating unit outages, derates, and failures to start were due to natural gas fuel supply issues. The major causes of the decline in natural gas

New York State Revises Solar and Wind Property Tax Calculator

On September 17, 2021, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance came out with a second (revised) preliminary appraisal model for assessing solar and wind energy projects. Its initial preliminary appraisal model was issued on August 2, 2021.  Comments on both proposed property tax assessment models are due on October 1, 2021.

All local taxing jurisdictions in New York will require the use of the tax assessment model to assess renewable energy projects.  Publication and use of a uniform methodology for assessing renewable projects is one of several recent changes to the New York Real Property Tax Laws (RPTL) that the state recently enacted to promote solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects.

One of those changes was requiring local tax assessors to adopt a uniform income capitalization, or discounted cash flow, valuation approach to assess renewable energy property. An income capitalization approach values the project using the net present value of a project’s future cash flows using

House of Reps, TSA Tackle Cybersecurity in the Energy Industry

This week, the House of Representatives approved three measures aimed at improving cybersecurity in the energy industry:

  • Energy Emergency Leadership Act. This Bill requires the Secretary of Energy to assign energy emergency and cybersecurity responsibilities to an Assistant Secretary, including responsibilities regarding infrastructure and cybersecurity.

 

 

  • Cyber Sense Act of 2021. This Bill encourages coordination between the Department of Energy and electric utilities. It also requires the Department of Energy to test products and technologies intended for use in the bulk power system.

These measures, which will now move to the Senate, are in response to the slew of recent cybersecurity attacks against critical U.S.

Connecticut Targets Deployment of 1,000 MW of Energy Storage to all Electric Customers by 2030

In a victory for the energy storage industry, the Connecticut Senate has passed a bill targeting deployment of 1,000 MW of energy storage by December 31, 2030. The bill also establishes interim targets of 300 MW by December 31, 2024 and 650 MW by December 31, 2027. Pursuant to the legislation, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (“PURA”) must initiate a proceeding by January 1, 2022, to develop and implement programs and associated funding mechanisms to interconnect energy storage resources with the electric distribution system. The energy storage programs implemented by PURA must include rate design incentives designed to avoid or defer investment in traditional electric distribution system capacity upgrades. Moreover, PURA’s program must achieve the following objectives: 1) provide positive net present value to ratepayers; 2) provide multiple benefits to the grid, including resilience, ancillary services, and leveling peaks in demand; 3) foster sustained, orderly development of state-based energy storage industry; and 4) maximize value from participation of energy storage in capacity markets.

 

Government Races to Secure Critical Infrastructure in Wake of Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack

One of the nation’s largest pipelines, Colonial Pipeline, which carries 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, was forced to shut down on May 7 after it was targeted by a ransomware attack. Ransomware is a type of malware where criminal groups encrypt data, effectively “holding it hostage,” until the victim pays a ransom.

Colonial Pipeline resumed operations on May 15. However, the cyberattack has sparked public panic and outcry as parts of the country experience fuel shortages and fuel prices rise to their highest levels in nearly seven years. The incident has also renewed efforts government-wide to strengthen security of U.S. pipelines and the power grid. On May 11, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce reintroduced bipartisan legislation aimed at bolstering the Department of Energy’s (“DOE”) ability to respond to cybersecurity threats to U.S. energy infrastructure. Among the several measures introduced were:

(1) The Pipeline and LNG Facility Cybersecurity Preparedness Act, which would require DOE to implement

State Climate Legislation Takes Aim at Natural Gas Industry

This is the second post in an ongoing series focused on how state and federal measures addressing climate and carbon reduction are affecting the natural gas industry. You can find the first post in this series here.

Nevada

In the latest effort to phase out or reduce the use of natural gas, a bill was introduced to the Nevada Legislature on March 23, 2021 (A.B. 380) that would set emissions reduction targets for buildings over the next 30 years to achieve a 95% decrease in emissions from buildings by 2050. The latest bill builds on Nevada’s 2019 climate strategy, which established a goal of economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050.[1]

The bill would direct the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (“Nevada PUC”) to open an investigatory docket to examine how gas utilities can assist the state in achieving its 2050 emissions goal and how gas utilities can maintain safety standards

Clean Energy Stands to Win Big with Biden Administration’s Proposed Infrastructure Plan

On March 31, 2021, President Biden released his $2 trillion infrastructure plan (the “Infrastructure Plan”) intended to target grid modernization, energy efficiency, and renewable energy development as part of the Administration’s ongoing effort to achieve a net-zero emissions power sector by 2035, and net-zero economy by 2050. In response to the recent Texas power crisis, the Infrastructure Plan proposes a $100 billion investment to modernize the electric grid with at least 20 GW of high-voltage capacity power lines. The Biden Administration also proposes creation of a Grid Deployment Authority at the Department of Energy to leverage existing rights-of-way and support creative financing tools to encourage high-voltage transmission lines.

The Infrastructure Plan proposes a 10-year extension and phase down of an expanded direct-pay investment tax credit and production tax credit for clean energy generation and storage. The Biden Administration also proposes creation of an Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard (EECES) aimed at cutting electricity bills and electricity pollution, increasing competition in the market, incentivizing efficient use

The Natural Gas Industry in a Climate-Focused Future: Regulators Take Action to Adapt

Introduction

Climate change policies at the state and federal levels will have significant impacts on natural gas companies and their customers.  On the one hand, there is pressure on companies to maintain safe and reliable service – on the other, the push for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  These competing objectives will have notable effects on how companies conduct their long-term planning to maintain system reliability while avoiding potential stranded costs and safeguarding ratepayers.  This post and subsequent updates will focus on how federal and some state regulators are addressing the issues.

Federal

The Biden Administration’s clean energy plan, which calls for a 100% clean energy economy by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050, has sparked an increased focus on achieving these goals. To reach net-zero by 2050, the Biden Administration plans to invest $1.7 trillion in federal funds in clean energy research and modernization, deploy zero emission vehicles across the government, and enforce