FERC declares QF rights

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Federal energy regulators have issued an advisory opinion regarding the rights of Qualifying Facility electric generators to sell power to their local utility under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's declaratory ruling illustrates how the Commission interprets PURPA and QF rights, in the context of state renewable energy portfolio standards and

PURPA was enacted by Congress in 1978 to promote goals including energy conservation and greater production of domestic and renewable energy.  It established a new class of generating facilities called QFs, to receive special rate and regulatory treatment. A chief benefit of QF status is the
right to sell energy and capacity to a utility, usually at either at the utility's avoided cost or at a negotiated rate.  By regulation, QFs generally have the option to sell energy either "as-available," or as part of a long-term contract or other legally enforceable obligation for delivery of energy or capacity over a specified term.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission oversees this program, although state energy commissions play important roles.  Section 210 (H)(2)(A) and (B) of PURPA give the Commission discretionary power to enforce its PURPA rules, including the power to require state commissions and non-regulated utilities to comply.  But the Commission may also decline to initiate an enforcement action, on a case by case basis.

Earlier this year, a group of QFs filed a complaint to the Commission against the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.  Windham Solar LLC and Allco Finance Limited alleged that Connecticut law and PURA’s regulations violate the Commission's PURPA regulations regarding an electric utility’s mandatory purchase obligation and a QF’s ability to sell pursuant to a legally enforceable obligation. Complainants effectively alleged that they couldn’t get a long-term contract to sell energy and capacity at avoided cost rates on a forecasted basis, unless the energy and capacity were bundled with renewable energy certificates (RECs), or unless the energy and capacity were provided under a short-term contract not to exceed one year.

Some of those basic facts were contested by PURA and others, and the Commission noted a history of dispute and litigation among the complainants and Connecticut energy regulators. So the Commission declined to initiate an enforcement action on the complaint.

But the Commission did issue a declaratory ruling, reciting case law and interpretation on two points: the relationship between state RECs and PURPA, and QF opportunities to secure long-term contracts.  The Commission noted that RECs exist under state law and not PURPA, but that avoided cost contracts do not automatically include RECs.  It also noted that winning a competitive solicitation cannot be the only way a QF may be allowed to obtain long-term avoided cost rates.

The original comes with robust citations to precedent, omitted for convenience below:
4. The Commission has previously addressed issues regarding the relationship between state-created RECs and PURPA. The Commission has stated that the states have the authority to determine who owns RECs in the initial instance and how they are transferred, and has explained that the automatic transfer of RECs within a sale of power at wholesale must find its authority in state law, not PURPA. The Commission has also held, however, that a state regulatory authority may not assign ownership of RECs to utilities based on a logic that the avoided cost rates in PURPA contracts already compensate QFs for RECs in addition to compensating QFs for energy and capacity, because the avoided cost rates are, in fact, compensation just for energy and capacity. Moreover, while the Commission has made clear that states have the authority to regulate RECs, states cannot impede a QF’s ability to sell its output to an electric utility pursuant to PURPA. Thus, regardless of whether a QF has previously sold its RECs under a separate contract, that QF has the right to sell its output pursuant to a legally enforceable obligation.

5. The Commission has also held that “requiring a QF to win a competitive solicitation as a condition to obtaining a long-term contract imposes an unreasonable obstacle to obtaining a legally enforceable obligation.” The Commission likewise has determined a state regulation to be inconsistent with PURPA and the Commission’s PURPA regulations “to the extent that it offers the competitive solicitation process as the only means by which a QF . . . can obtain long-term avoided cost rates.” Accordingly, regardless of whether a QF has participated in a request for proposal, that QF has the right to obtain a legally enforceable obligation. 
As noted in the declaratory ruling, the Commission's "decision not to initiate an enforcement action means that Petitioners may themselves bring an enforcement action against the Connecticut Authority in the appropriate court."

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