State attorneys warn FERC to protect PURPA

Source: By Niina H. Farah, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Eight state attorneys general and a pair of public utility commissions yesterday warned federal regulators that proposed changes to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act could prevent states from reaching their clean energy and climate goals.

Led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D), the coalition said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s proposed changes to PURPA were unlawful.

“Advancing clean and renewable energy projects are our best shot at combatting the climate crisis,” Healey said in a statement. “We need to protect laws like PURPA to expand our state’s thriving $13 billion clean energy economy and protect our environment for future generations.”

The administration’s proposed changes to the 1978 law aimed to increase flexibility for states to set power rates from qualifying renewable energy facilities (Greenwire, Sept. 19).

One of FERC’s proposed changes was to get rid of qualified facility access to a fixed energy rate. The coalition warned that while this might not have much practical effect on states with strong clean energy policies, it could have an impact on PURPA revenue streams in states without such policies.

That, in turn, could affect project investment, the states said.

“That result is contrary to the statute’s intent to encourage the development of [qualifying facilities], including renewable generation resources like solar and wind power,” the coalition wrote in public comments yesterday.

Healey noted in separate comments that the proposed changes to PURPA could hurt the commonwealth’s ability to meet its own energy goals. Massachusetts has a target of retail energy suppliers obtaining 15% of supply from clean energy resources by 2020.

This could be problematic “particularly where potential investors deem projects that lack PURPA revenues a higher-risk investment and impose more onerous financing premiums on project development,” Healey wrote.

The coalition urged FERC to continue to allow clean energy generation developers to contract with incumbent public utilities for purchasing renewable energy, an arrangement that helps states meet their climate goals. It also called for the commission to allow states to opt out of fossil fuel use.

“Any Commission action that has the purpose or effect of furthering the nation’s reliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels rather than continued development of clean renewable resources would do exactly that and is not consistent with PURPA’s objectives,” the states and public utility commissions wrote.

The attorneys general of Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon and the District of Columbia, as well as the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, were also part of the coalition.