FERC 2015 Report on Enforcement

Monday, November 23, 2015

The enforcement arm of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has released a report describing its enforcement activities in fiscal year 2015.

The 69-page 2015 FERC staff report on enforcement draws its organization from that of the Commission's Office of Enforcement.  The report presents public summaries of activity by each of the Office’s four divisions -- Investigations, Audits, Energy Market Oversight, and Analytics and Surveillance.  Of these, Investigations and Audits are the most likely to lead to penalties or other direct enforcement action, while Market Oversight and Analytics typically play more of a background role, supporting the Commission's investigations and audits.

According to the report, the Investigations division opened 19 new investigations in fiscal 2015, and closed 22 (through settlement or "no action").  Major settlements in fiscal 2015 focused on the major 2011 Southwest power outage, with the Commission concluding its multiyear investigation into that outage and its causes.  In all, staff obtained settlements resulting in almost $26.25 million in civil penalties and disgorgement of $1 million in unjust profits. All settlements included reporting requirements and provisions requiring the subjects to enhance compliance programs.

The FERC enforcement office's Audits division periodically checks the records of licensees and public utilities to evaluate their compliance with the statutes and regulations administered by the Commission.  It reportedly performed 22 financial and operational audits of public utilities and oil and natural gas pipelines.  The report states that these audits led to 360 recommendations for corrective action, and refunds and recoveries totaling more than $26.3 million.

Generally speaking, the annual staff enforcement report is a summary of what's already happened.  In other words, the enforcement activity described in the annual report has already occurred.  Much of that activity was public; any civil penalties or other remedies described in the report are generally imposed and documented in separate, preexisting proceedings.  The report does also provide summary level information on some non-public Enforcement activities, like self-reported violations or investigations closed without public enforcement action.

The enforcement report also provides an important look into how the Commission staff view their work -- the enforcement office's patterns, trends, and priorities, as expressed by the people doing the enforcing.  By following the Commission's enforcement activity throughout the year, and comparing that history to staff's view of the year, the enforcement office's points of emphasis come into focus.  As expected, in fiscal year 2015, these included fraud and market manipulation, serious violations of mandatory reliability standards, and conduct that the office found to threaten the transparency of regulated markets.

The Office of Enforcement's annual report can also be compared to previous reports dating back to at least 2007.  Compared to some recent years, fiscal 2015 saw a relatively lower total penalty amount resulting from enforcement action.  (Compare 2015's $26.3 million in penalties and $1 million in disgorgement, with 2013's over $304 million in civil penalties and disgorgement of almost $141 million in unjust profits.)

But experience has shown that there can be difficulty, or at least delay, affecting whether FERC will actually collect that money.  The report notes that in fiscal 2015, Enforcement filed three new petitions in federal district court to enforce earlier Commission orders assessing civil penalties.  Along with an anti-manipulation case tried in 2015 before a FERC Administrative Law Judge, the report notes that staff is waging district court and administrative litigation to recover over $500 million in civil penalties and disgorgement.

ISO-NE files IRC-related values for 2019-2020

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In advance of an upcoming auction to sell electric generating capacity into the New England market, regional grid operator ISO New England Inc. has submitted key information about its plans to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

ISO New England is the private, non-profit entity that serves as the regional transmission organization for New England.  In this role, ISO-NE plans and operates the New England bulk power system, administers New England’s organized wholesale electricity market, and has some responsibility over system reliability.  Reliability can be stated in terms of a loss of load expectation or “LOLE”, which measures how often non-interruptible customers are disconnected.

New England has adopted a capacity market as part of its wholesale electricity market structure.  One aspect of system reliability is ensuring sufficient generating capacity is available to meet consumer demand.  Pursuant to Section III.13 of the Tariff, the ISO administers periodic Forward Capacity Auctions, or FCAs, in order “to procure the amount of capacity needed in the New England Control Area.”

ISO-NE will hold its tenth Forward Capacity Auction in February 2016, covering the 2019-2020 Capacity Commitment Period.  To do so, ISO-NE must first identify how much generation will be needed to meet reliability standards in light of total forecasted load requirements for the New England Control Area and to maintain sufficient reserve capacity to meet reliability standards.  One key value characterizing this need is the "Installed Capacity Requirement" or ICR.  ICR refers to the amount of resources needed to meet the reliability requirements defined for the New England Control Area of disconnecting non-interruptible customers no more than once every ten years.  Under Section 205 of the Federal Power Act, ISO-NE files with the FERC proposed ICR-Related Values for the each auction.

On November 10, 2015, ISO New England submitted to the FERC its Installed Capacity Requirement, Local Sourcing Requirement for the Southeastern New England Capacity Zone, Hydro Quebec Interconnection Capability Credits, and Demand Curve Values for the 2019-2020 Capacity Commitment Period.  In that filing, ISO-NE proposed an Installed Capacity Requirement (net of certain credits for imports) of 34,151 MW.

ISO-NE noted that for the most part, this and other key values were calculated using the same Commission-approved methodology that has been used to calculate the values submitted and accepted for other recent Capacity Commitment Periods. One key difference for the tenth FCA is the inclusion of behind-the-meter photovoltaic (“PV”) resources that are not yet reflected in historical loads as a reduction in the load forecast. This change addresses a requirement imposed by the FERC in its January 2, 2015 Order accepting the Installed Capacity Requirement and related values for the ninth FCA.

ISO-NE asked FERC to accept the proposed ICR-Related Values for the tenth FCA to be effective on January 9, 2016 (i.e. 60 days after filing), to enable their use in the tenth FCA scheduled for February 2016.

Report: solar panels add home appraisal value

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"How will putting rooftop solar panels on my home affect its value?" is a common question among those considering residential-sited solar energy projects. 

It will help, according to a report recently released by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, finding solar photovoltaic systems add value to homes in a variety of markets under traditional appraisal methodology as well as statistical analysis.

A residential rooftop solar project in Massachusetts.

Intuition and previous studies have shown a "price premium" effect for solar photovoltaic systems in some markets.  Where a price premium applies, a home with a solar PV system can command a higher price than a comparable home without one.

A 2013 study of California using statistical analysis found "clear support that a premium exists in the marketplace; thus, PV systems have value, and their contribution to home values must be assessed."  That study found a strong correlation between premiums and PV system size, and a weak negative correlation with PV system age.  Essentially, "larger systems garner larger premiums and older systems garner smaller premiums," with each 1-kilowatt increase in size estimated as commanding a $5,911 higher premium, while each year of system age yields a $2,411 lower premium.  

A similar 2014 study of eight states found "PV consistently adds value across a variety of states, housing and PV markets, and home types."  Notably, these studies relied heavily on hedonic or regression pricing models to account for characteristics specific to each property (home type, site, neighborhood, market).  While such large-scale statistical analysis is commonly performed in economics, home buying more commonly relies on the appraisal process to support both price formation and financing.  Few previous studies were written by experienced real estate appraisers using paired-sales techniques or other standard appraisal methods.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has released a report designed to bridge this gap, featuring a comparison of statistically derived PV premiums and analysis performed by experienced home appraisers.  That report, "Appraising into the Sun: Six-State Solar Home Paired-Sales Analysis", examined 43 pairs of comparable homes that sold with and without PV across seven areas in six state (California, Oregon, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania).  It compared traditional real estate appraisal analysis of these homes to contributory-value estimates based on gross cost, net cost, and income. Overall, it found that under either statistical or appraisal based analysis, PV systems added premiums of $2.68/W to $4.31/W across states, averaging $3.78/W or about $14,000 for an "average-size" system sold in 2011 (3.8 kW).

The study did identify some difficulty in conducting comparable-sales analysis on homes with solar panels.  (It also includes a section titled "Warning to Users of this Study", noting the analysis was limited to specific times and places, only considered host-owned systems with crystalline-silicon panels, and does not address potential sales price implications related to the location of the PV systems.)  However, it found that appraised premiums are in agreement with the hedonic modeling results as well.  Practically speaking, this means cost- and income-based statistical estimates of PV premiums could be reliable when paired-sales analysis is impossible.

Further information about the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report on appraisal value of residential solar PV systems can be found in a November 12, 2015 presentation hosted on its website.

FERC considers 2015 enforcement report

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is scheduled to consider its 2015 Report on Enforcement when it meets later this week.

The FERC is an independent federal agency charged with regulating certain U.S. energy resources and activities, including the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil, as well as hydropower and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals.

Since at least 2007, FERC releases an annual report describing its enforcement activity.  Recent FERC enforcement reports include:

These reports illustrate that FERC's enforcement of the federal energy laws it manages has become a higher priority for the Commission in recent years.  Congress enhanced FERC's enforcement powers through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which gives FERC the authority to levy fines of up to $1,000,000 per day for some violations.  Enforcement continued to escalate in priority through a subsequent restructuring of the Commission's Office of Enforcement, and President Obama's selection of chief enforcement officer Norman Bay as FERC's chairman.

Penalties assessed by FERC through enforcement actions have also increased in recent years, with over $5.8 million in refunds, over $148 million in civil penalties and disgorgement of over $119 million in unjust profits in fiscal year 2012, and over $304 million in civil penalties and disgorgement of almost $141 million in unjust profits in fiscal year 2013.

The Commission will next meet on November 19 at its Washington, DC headquarters.  On its agenda is an item captioned as A-3, AD07-13-009, "2015 Report on Enforcement."  While much of FERC's enforcement activity begins in a non-public mode, the annual staff report sheds some light on the Commission's overall approach to enforcement.  FERC's free live webcast is also available during the meeting and will be archived for 3 months.

DONG Energy proposes Massachusetts offshore wind farm

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A subsidiary of Danish energy company DONG Energy has proposed an offshore wind development to be located in federal waters off the Massachusetts coast.  The "Bay State Wind" project would be a utility scale offshore wind farm, located 15 miles south of Martha's Vineyard.

Largely owned by the Danish government, DONG is the world’s largest developer of offshore wind projects, reportedly having built over 3,000 megawatts or about a third of all installed offshore wind capacity in the world.  Other branches of the company engage in serving Danish customers, oil and natural gas exploration and production, and thermal power generation. 

Because the Bay State Wind project's site is over the outer continental shelf, it falls under federal jurisdiction for site leasing purposes under subsection 8(p) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.  The wind energy area in question was originally auctioned by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in January 2015.  In that January auction, RES America Developments, Inc. provisionally won the rights to Lease OCS-A 0500 (187,523 acres) with a winning bid of $281,285.  BOEM signed the commercial wind energy lease for the site on March 23, 2015, and the lease went into effect on April 1, 2015.

In April 2015, RES agreed to transfer the lease to DONG.  In accordance with BOEM's process for assigning a site lease, BOEM agreed to assign the lease to DONG Energy Massachusetts (U.S.) LLC on June 12.

According to DONG, full development of the Bay State Wind project might entail 1,000 megawatts of generating capacity.  Its lease area is adjacent to the wind energy area offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts won by Deepwater Wind in 2013 in BOEM's first competitive lease sale for offshore wind sites.

US auctions NJ offshore wind sites

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The U.S. Department of the Interior has auctioned the rights to lease nearly 344,000 acres offshore New Jersey for potential offshore wind energy development. 

Under federal law, the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is responsible for leasing marine sites on the Outer Continental Shelf for energy development.  In addition to BOEM's oil and gas site leasing programs, the agency also operates renewable energy programs focused primarily on offshore wind and hydrokinetic resources (waves and currents).  Prior to yesterday's lease sale, BOEM had awarded nine commercial offshore wind leases offshore Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

In September, BOEM announced that it would auction off the rights to two designated Wind Energy Areas offshore New Jersey.  That auction was held yesterday.  According to BOEM, the provisional winner of lease area OCS-A 0498 (160,480 acres) was RES America Developments Inc., with a bid of $880,715.  US Wind Inc. provisionally won site OCS-A 0499 (183,353 acres), with a bid of $1,006,240. Fishermen’s Energy LLC also reportedly participated in the lease sale but did not win either parcel.

Generally centered offshore of Atlantic City, the New Jersey Wind Energy Area starts about 7 nautical miles offshore and runs about 21 nautical miles seaward.  The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports that full development of the area could support about 3,400 megawatts of wind generation.

Since the Obama administration's early "Smart from the Start" program, BOEM has engaged in efforts to spur offshore wind development.  President Obama's June 2013 Climate Change Action Plan features offshore wind as a tool to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from domestic industry.

This emphasis on the linkage between offshore wind and action on climate change is increasingly clear in the administration's messaging.  Early press releases on BOEM's offshore wind programs emphasized "the Obama Administration's all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand domestic energy production."  By July 31, 2013, in announcing the first ever competitive lease sale for renewable energy in federal waters, BOEM described "President Obama's comprehensive plan to move our economy toward domestic clean energy sources and cut carbon pollution."  Just two months later in September 2013, after the release of the Climate Action Plan, BOEM began using the phrase "President Obama's Climate Action Plan to create American jobs, develop domestic clean energy sources and cut carbon pollution."  BOEM continues to use this phrase in touting its offshore wind program's consistency with the Climate Action Plan, as recently as yesterday's press release about the New Jersey lease sale.

Perhaps more tellingly, the Department of Interior press release announcing yesterday's New Jersey sale references "COP21", the upcoming 2015 Paris Climate Conference, in its brief summary.  This reference to the Paris climate convention is not otherwise explained in the text of the press release.  Nevertheless its inclusion here highlights the interplay between domestic and international energy policy, as well as the potential role U.S. offshore wind might play in addressing climate change.

Tide Mill Institute 2015 conference

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Tide Mill Institute will hold its 11th annual conference on November 6-7, 2015, at the Cummings Center in Beverly, Massachusetts.  Participants will explore the past, present, and future uses of tidal energy through expert presentations, exhibits, and a field trip to a mid-seventeenth century tide mill site.

Part of the tidal barrage at the site of Heal's Lower Mill, Westport Island, Maine.

A nonprofit corporation, the Tide Mill Institute hopes to advance the appreciation of tide mill history and technology by encouraging research, by promoting appropriate re-uses of former tide mill sites and by fostering communication among tide mill enthusiasts.  The Institute's mission is:

  • to advance appreciation of the American and international heritage of tide mill technology;
  • to encourage research into the location and history of tide mill sites;
  • to serve as a repository for tide mill data for students, scholars, engineers and the general public and to support and expand the community of these tide mill stakeholders; and
  • to promote appropriate re-uses of old tide-mill sites and the development of the use of tides as an energy source.

Tide Mill Institute's 2015 symposium includes presentations on tide mills and tidal power by experts from France, Ireland, and the U.S.  Thomas McErlean will describe his experiences uncovering a nearly 1,400 year old tide mill at Nendrum, Northern Ireland, whose bed logs were cut in 619 AD.  The conference includes a low-tide field trip to view the site of the Friend's Mill, built about 1647-1649 on the Bass River in Beverly, Massachusetts, where a later foundation and some remains are still visible.  Concurrently, the Beverly Historical Society is opening its new exhibit on the Friend's Mill this weekend.

For more information or to register, contact Bud Warren at 207-373-1209 or email info@tidemillinstitute.org.

Record low prices in summer 2015 New England wholesale electricity market

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The summer of 2015 brought New England the lowest wholesale electricity prices since 2003, thanks to record low prices for natural gas.  According to regional grid operator ISO New England Inc., this illustrates what happens "when New England power plants can access the vast supply of lower-priced, domestic natural gas being produced in the Marcellus shale deposit."

ISO-NE, "Summer 2015: The lowest natural gas and power prices since 2003"

In a post on its ISO Newswire site, the grid operator noted that the average real-time wholesale electricity price for June, July, and August 2015 was $26.86 per megawatt-hour (MWh). By comparison, the average real-time price of wholesale electric energy in 2014 was $63.32 per megawatt-hour.  While summer energy prices have typically averaged lower than winter prices in New England, 2015's summer prices were low even in comparison to other recent summers: $34.31 in 2014, or $43.94 in 2013.

What explains New England's low wholesale electricity prices this summer?  According to ISO New England, it's because existing natural gas-fired power plants could get fuel at a low price:
In essence, the reason was the low price of natural gas that could be delivered to the power plants that burn natural gas to make electricity. For most of the year, the price of natural gas is low in New England, and as a consequence, the demand for natural gas for both heating and power generation just continues to grow. In fact, in 2014, New England power generators using natural gas produced 44% of the region’s electricity.
The ISO-NE post describes how low-priced natural gas plus adequate interstate pipeline transportation capacity yields New England low electricity prices.  Indeed, the average price of  natural gas in New England during June, July, and August averaged a record low $2/MMBtu.  This is nearly 40% below last year's summer average ($3.27/MMBtu), itself the next-lowest summer record.

New England's average summer electricity price was even below that of other regions, like the Midwest.  According to ISO-NE, "This summer’s prices indicate that the region’s electricity prices can be competitive, in the more commonly understood sense, with other regions of the US when low-cost fuel is available." Indeed, at times the price of natural gas in New England was below that of the benchmark Henry Hub.

The post also describes how heavy winter demand for natural gas for both heating and power generation, combined with pipeline constraints, yields high natural gas prices and thus high electricity prices.  This has occurred repeatedly in recent winters, such as in January and February 2014 and February 2015.  What is at issue is thus the ability of the interstate natural gas pipeline transportation network to ship enough gas into the Northeast -- a capability exceeded through much of the recent winters, with the resulting price paid in coal and oil emissions as well as dollars.

As ISO-NE notes, most customers' retail rates for electricity are set using mechanisms to reduce rate volatility, and time of use rates are not yet widely adopted.  But the net movement of wholesale markets is eventually priced into retail rates.  Can New England keep competitive with other regions?