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Fortnightly's Top 10

if such purchases might drive costs up for ratepayers by forcing base-load, cheaper-to-operate, coal-fired generating plants offline at awkward times — as long as the QF-certified wind farm has a signed an arms-length, fixed-price,  purchased power contract with the utility, specifying the wind generator’s right to receive a price keyed to the utility’s avoided cost.

But the jury may still be out. In 2011 FERC had struck down similar efforts by the Bonneville Power Administration (to curtail third-party wind farm output to BPA manage hydro dam spillway discharges to protect fish in the Columbia River), but now must now rule on whether BPA can justify backing down wind if it reimburses any curtailed wind plant owners to cover the cost of the revenues they would lose from federal production tax credits and renewable energy certificates.

#4 The Last Penny: Paying for Grid Expansion
Do ratepayers in Chicago benefit from a transmission line built in New Jersey? FERC says yes, and so has reaffirmed its policy of allowing the PJM regional grid to spread the costs among all customers across its entire footprint for newly built transmission operating at voltages of 500 kilovolts or greater, finally issuing a new order (FERC Dkt. No. EL05-121-006) on remand nearly three years after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit had directed FERC to do a better job of explaining its policy.

The court had said back in 2009 that FERC needn’t calculate benefits “to the last penny,” yet that’s just what the commission did—armed with data it’s been collecting recently on the performance of PJM and other, similar “regional transmission organizations (RTOs).

Relying on a report submitted a year ago by the nation’s six RTOs, FERC figured that high-voltage lines had allowed PJM to produce save $2.2 billion a year from region-wide grid planning, reserve sharing, and operational integration, thus justifying the assignment of $198 million in transmission line expansion costs to Chicago-area ratepayers of Commonwealth Edison, even though that new construction was located on the mid-Atlantic Seaboard.

#5 Spent-Fuel Follies: Nuclear Plant Licensing at Issue
In New York v. NRC,  decided this summer, the D.C. Circuit vacated the “waste confidence decision” issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2010 that said plant operators could continue to store spent nuclear fuel safely on a temporary basis at nuclear plant sites for at least 60 years past the plant’s licensing term, since NRC had failed to fully consider environmental impacts.

That ruling gave NRC no choice but to enjoin and postpone any future formal decision on a pending application for a nuclear plant operating license — but not until after NRC already had granted nuclear plant operating licenses for the first time in more than 30 years, OK’ing two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors for Southern’s Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, and two more for the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina, operated by SCANA and Santee Cooper.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Circuit told DOE to review its policy of continuing to charge fees to nuclear plant owners to fund the long-term disposal of spent nuclear fuel

Deck: 
The year’s most important legal and regulatory rulings.
Image: 
Fortnightly's Top 10 Legal Decisions of 2012
Subtitle: 
The year’s most important legal and regulatory rulings.
Intro Text: 
It’s a war out there — or rather, several of them. Fortnightly reports from the front lines of the conflict over U.S. energy and environmental policy.
Publishing Date: 
Wednesday, October 31, 2012 (All day)