The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") is seeking comments from energy industry participants on regulatory reforms that address how FERC should regulate merchant transmission development and generator interconnection (or lead) lines. Specifically, FERC desires comments on how it should balance the requirements of open access transmission and the needs of project developers.
Merchant transmission and generator interconnection issues have caused a surge of contested FERC proceedings in recent years. In 2009, merchant transmission developers, for instance, were granted the ability to place transmission capacity with anchor tenants prior to making capacity available through an open season. The anchor tenant model was a significant shift in merchant transmission regulation, but, to date, merchant transmission developers have struggled to maintain meaningful anchor tenant arrangements. As a result, more recent filings at FERC have pushed the boundaries of the anchor tenant model, and FERC now seeks to determine through public comment how its open access policies could be further changed to incentivize merchant transmission development.
Generator interconnection lines have also been a popular subject at FERC of late—specifically whether and how interconnection line owners should be granted priority rights to interconnection capacity. This issue is particularly relevant for renewable energy developers who are planning to build generation projects in phases and will rely on having interconnection capacity available to serve later phases when they come online. To maintain priority over competing interconnection requests, FERC has asked generation developers to show they have established milestones for developing the generation phases that seek priority (and to demonstrate progress toward meeting those milestones). Such filings are generally confidential, and thus interconnection line owners from the outside looking in have not been given much insight into what is required to establish priority. FERC's precedent on the issue has also created dissimilar treatment of interconnection owners who are affiliated with open access transmission providers.
On March 15, 2011, FERC staff held a technical conference where the invited speakers shared a wide range of opinions on these issues. With respect to merchant transmission, speakers supported (i) creating a new section to the Open Access Transmission Tariff ("OATT") that would specify the rules for developing merchant transmission and the ancillary services obligations of those developers, (ii) placing AC merchant lines under existing incumbent transmission provider OATTs, (iii) allowing more incentives for anchor tenants, and (iv) having FERC back away from regulating these projects in their early stages. Those who spoke about priority to interconnection capacity shared opinions that included (x) requiring interconnection developers to give public notice of their development intentions and allow others to bid on capacity (a "speak now or forever hold your peace" approach), (y) requiring all interconnection owners to develop and maintain an "OATT light"—a pared down version of the full OATT, and (z) advocating for less regulation of interconnection lines altogether. FERC staff also questioned whether and how FERC should regulate transmission service over interconnection facilities that are shared or jointly owned (e.g., through a Joint Ownership Agreement, Shared Facilities Agreement, or Common Facilities Agreement) directly by generation developers, or indirectly through an affiliate that owns and operates an interconnection line.
Written comments on these issues are due to FERC no later than April 21, 2011.