The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on April 2 issued a policy statement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that offers regulatory guidance on energy infrastructure, market, reliability and security matters.
In response to the pandemic, entities regulated by the Commission have taken unprecedented actions that may disrupt, complicate, or otherwise change their normal course of business operations, FERC said in a news release.
The Policy Statement acknowledges that these actions may create questions about entities’ ability to meet regulatory requirements and/or recover the costs necessary to take steps to safeguard the business continuity of their systems.
The Policy Statement makes clear that the Commission will give highest priority to processing filings made for the purpose of assuring the reliable operation of energy infrastructure during this emergency and assures regulated entities that the Commission “will expeditiously review and act on requests for relief, including but not limited to, requests for cost recovery necessary to assure business continuity of the regulated entities’ energy infrastructure in response to the national emergency.”
FERC also expressed support for the continued cooperation across industry and government to provide any additional safeguards necessary to ensure the reliable and secure operation of energy infrastructure.
In other action, FERC facilitated social distancing by approving a blanket waiver of requirements in Open Access Transmission Tariffs that require entities to hold meetings in-person and to provide or obtain notarized documents. The waiver will remain in place through September 1, 2020.
In addition, FERC said it was moving to prioritize the efficient processing of requests for waiver and other requests for relief made in response to the emergency conditions created by COVID-19 by:
- Delegating authority to the Director of FERC’s Office of Energy Market Regulation to act on uncontested requests for prospective waiver of certain regulatory obligations. This delegated authority is effective until June 1, 2020; and
- Approving an Instant Final Rule delegating authority to the Director of FERC’s Office of Energy Policy and Innovation to act on motions for extension of time to file, or requests or petitions for waiver of the requirements of, FERC Form No. 552 (Annual report of Natural Gas Transactions) and FERC-730 (Report of Transmission Investment Activity).
FERC also extended the time period for Regional Transmission Operators and Independent System Operators to post all uplift reports and operator-initiated commitment reports. The time period for all reports that otherwise would have been required to be posted between April 2020 and September 2020 is extended to October 20, 2020.
Enforcement and compliance
In addition, FERC said it was taking steps to help regulated entities manage their potential enforcement and compliance-related burdens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee on April 2 announced that the Commission will exercise appropriate prosecutorial discretion in addressing events that arise during the pandemic.
FERC enforcement staff will take the current emergency into account when evaluating compliance programs as part of its analyses under penalty guidelines, or as part of an audit for operations taking place during the emergency. FERC staff also will take the crisis into account in assessing the timeliness of self-reports, including the self-report credit under the penalty guidelines.
Chatterjee announced the creation of two Commission staff task forces to expeditiously process standards of conduct waiver requests and no-action letters.
The FERC website’s coronavirus, standards of conduct and no-action letter web pages have been updated with staff contact information and enhanced procedures to facilitate prompt resolution of these matters, the agency noted.
Chatterjee also confirmed that the pandemic qualifies as an emergency, triggering the suspension of certain standards of conduct posting requirements in the Commission’s regulations.
Under those regulations, if an entity faces a disruption for more than one month and cannot resume standards of conduct posting obligations as a result of COVID-19, it should file a waiver request.
Among other measures announced by FERC on April 2:
- Enforcement staff will be in communication with the subjects of continuing non-public investigations and audits, and entities with continuing compliance obligations associated with completed enforcement cases. Staff will work with each entity to provide flexibility with discovery-related or other deadlines through July 31, 2020. Subjects are encouraged to reach out directly to OE staff with any questions about deadlines;
- Enforcement staff will not begin any new audits until July 31, 2020;
- Enforcement staff will only contact entities regarding surveillance inquiries that involve market behavior that could result in significant risk of harm to the market and thus require immediate attention. Inquiries not requiring immediate attention will be postponed to a later date;
- The Commission has issued an extension to June 1, 2020 for Form Nos. 552, 60, and 61, as well as Electric Quarterly Reports. FERC will continue to expeditiously process individual waiver or extension requests; and
- Entities may delay for 60 days the submission of self-reports that involve inadvertent errors producing no significant harm to the markets, ratepayers or other market participants.
Chatterjee also stressed the Commission’s continuing efforts to protect markets through surveillance. “The Commission will remain vigilant during this challenging period and will continue its market surveillance efforts to protect market participants and consumers from the effects of anti-competitive behavior,” he said in a news release.
FERC said its enforcement staff continues to monitor, without interruption, its surveillance data feeds and screening processes while operating in a remote status.
Chatterjee last month detailed steps that the Commission is taking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic including naming a FERC point of contact for all industry inquiries related to impacts of COVID-19 on their FERC-jurisdictional activities.
FERC, NARUC join forces in COVID-19 pandemic response efforts
FERC and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) on March 26 said they were joining forces in their COVID-19 pandemic response efforts to help ensure the reliability of the nation’s energy transmission and distribution systems.
As the first step in this partnership, FERC and NARUC are urging all state authorities to designate utility workers as essential to the nation’s critical infrastructure, they said.
FERC, NERC offer guidance to ensure reliability amid potential coronavirus impacts
FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation on March 18 announced that they are taking steps to ensure that operators of the bulk electric system can focus their resources on keeping people safe and the lights on during the unprecedented public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
APPA COVID-19 resources
The American Public Power Association has set up a webpage that provides information and resources for its members related to COVID-19 and updates on how this affects APPA programs and events.