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Transmission Preemption

Federal policy trumps state siting authority.

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2010

the exact ambit of FERC’s siting authority under Section 216 after the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Piedmont will no doubt be thrashed out at a later date, Section 215, bolstered by pre-existing FPA provisions, the filed-rate doctrine and general preemption principles, shouldn’t be overlooked when determining the scope of the RTO’s authority over transmission planning and authorization versus that of state and local authorities. If the interconnected transmission system is to be protected through regional oversight and federally authorized reliability standards, states can’t be permitted to substitute their own need determinations for that of the RTO and thus bring the construction of new infrastructure to a standstill.

The current federal framework certainly encourages cooperation among federal, regional and state authorities, seeking mightily to avoid conflict. But if such conflict happens, that current federal framework contains the legislative and regulatory authority needed to preserve federal and regional control over the transmission system.

 

Endnotes:

1. Piedmont Environmental Council v. FERC , 558 F. 3d 304 (4th Cir. 2009).

2. Sections 215 and 216 of the FPA, referenced throughout this article, are codified at 16 U.S.C. §§ 824o & 824p.

3. See Gainesville U. Dept. v. Fla. Power Corp. , 402 U.S. 515, 529 (1971) (referencing FERC’s “responsibility to the public to assure reliable efficient electric service”).

4. ISO New England, Inc., 119 FERC ¶ 61,161 at P25 (2007) (citation omitted), pet’n for rev. denied, sub nom. Connecticut DPU v. FERC , 569 F.3d 477 (2009).

5. See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. FERC , 571 F.3d 1208, 1213 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (“Network Upgrades … improve the entire network, thus their cost must be spread among all users.”).

6. See, e.g. , Order 2000, 65 Fed. Reg. 810, 811 (Jan. 6, 2000) (89 FERC ¶ 61,285 (Dec. 20, 1999).

7. Id. at 814 (citations omitted). NERC later became the Electric Reliability Organization certified by FERC under Section 215 to develop, propose, and enforce (subject to FERC review) grid-reliability standards.

8. See Order 890, Preventing Undue Discrimination and Preference in Transmission Service , 72 Fed. Reg. 12266 (Mar. 15, 2007) [slip op. P 438 (Feb. 16, 2007)].

9. Id. PP 453, 460, 471.

10. See id . P 21.

11. See Tennessee v. U.S. DOT , 326 F.3d 729, 736 (6th Cir. 2003) (interpreting somewhat similar 49 U.S.C. § 5125).

12. See, e.g. , NERC TPL-003, Requirement 1.3.2; Order on Reliability Standards Interpretations , 131 FERC ¶ 61,068 (2010).

13. 131 FERC ¶61,253 (June 17, 2010).

14. Nantahala Power & Light Co. v. Thornburg , 476 U.S. 953, 962 (1986).

15. See Nantahala , 476 U.S. at 966 (“[T]he filed rate doctrine is not limited to ‘rates’ per se: ‘our inquiry is not at an end because the orders do not deal in terms of prices or volumes of purchase.’”) (citations omitted).

16. 474 F.3d 804 (D.C. 2007).

17. Id. at 810.

18. Connecticut DPU v. FERC , 569 F.3d 477 (D.C. Cir. 2009).

19. Entergy La. Inc. v. La . PSC, 539 U.S. 39, 50 (2003) (“It matters . . . only