Updated: Mar 28, 2022
By Caelyn A. Palmer, Associate Attorney, Floom Energy Law PLLC
“How is the FERC responding to the pandemic?”
“Will the hearing/settlement conference/event be held in person?”
“What if my remote employees cannot submit a filing on time?”
These questions have become common refrains over the past several weeks and months in the federally-regulated energy industry. In this post, Floom Energy
Law highlights various ways the FERC is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, with relevant orders and resources linked below.
While it is difficult in these still-early stages to assess the full extent of impacts, the Commission has already taken steps to address issues raised in the energy industry. Such steps include creation of a liaison role specifically designed to field industry concerns regarding COVID-19. The Commission appointed Caroline Wozniak, a Senior Policy Advisor in FERC’s Office of Energy Market Regulation, to the newly-created role of Coronavirus Liaison. As liaison, Caroline leads a team of fourteen technical staff to address industry inquiries regarding the impact of COVID-19 on FERC-jurisdictional activities. The team will report on the industry’s needs to the Commission. For inquiries to the Coronavirus Liaison, please contact PandemicLiaison@ferc.gov.
The Commission recently announced it will host a technical conference on July 8-9, 2020 to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on energy infrastructure and resources. The conference is free and open to the public, and will be held electronically from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on both days. Topics covered will include: system operations and planning, electricity demand and transmission planning, natural gas and oil demand, and issues regarding access to capital. While panelists have not yet been announced, the Commission provided an agenda with an extensive list of sample topics, ranging from potential changes in energy demand to increased credit risk. Registration is encouraged here.
In recent weeks and months the Commission issued several orders addressing regulatory requirements that may be difficult or impossible to meet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasingly, filings at the FERC include reference to actual or anticipated delays due to COVID-19, largely resulting from expansive work-from-home programs and/or staggered work schedules as cities, counties, and states reopen. One notable adjustment is that the Commission is not currently accepting hard-copy mail deliveries. The FERC e-Filing system is continuing its normal operations, however, and all parties are directed to file electronically.
As remote work became increasingly common in March, the Commission granted an extension of time regarding non-statutory filings and pleadings, which extended most filing deadlines to May 1. The Commission then issued an order waiving notarizations and sworn declarations required under 18 C.F.R. § 45.7 (2019) through September 1, 2020. However, there has been no word on whether further extensions of filing deadlines may be granted in light of continued remote work environments and limited office reopenings.
The Commission also made several adjustments to its compliance and enforcement procedures. There is a hold on new audits until July 31, 2020. Market surveillance inquiries not requiring immediate attention (i.e., those that do not involved significant risk of market harm) are postponed until further notice. Further, self-reports may be delayed for 60 days if the report regards inadvertent errors that do not cause significant market or ratepayer harm. While the Commission will continue market surveillance, Chairman Chatterjee has emphasized that the Commission will not “second-guess the good faith actions” entities take in response to the pandemic.
The FERC headquarters in Washington, D.C. have been closed to the public since mid-March, and the Commission has since ordered all in-person conferences to be rescheduled or conducted in electronic format. In addition, the Commission set certain proceedings for paper hearings in lieu of in-person or electronic hearings. Although limited FERC staff and contractors continued to work in the headquarters after the public closure, the buildings were further closed to all personnel from May 8-18 after four individuals contracted the coronavirus. Limited staff and contractors were permitted to return after May 18, and the building was slated to open to all staff on May 26. As of this writing, the building will remain closed to the public until further notice.
Finally, the FERC, in joint cooperation with the North American Transmission Forum (NATF), the Northern American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), and the U.S. Department of Energy, issued an online resource repository to assist utilities in responding to the pandemic. The Epidemic/Pandemic Response Plan Resource website includes a comprehensive guide and compilation of relevant documents for utilities to develop their pandemic response plans. The repository covers issues ranging from resiliency to supply chain risk and human resources to cybersecurity. Links to these resources are provided below.
If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this post, please contact us. Stay tuned for further updates!
Temporary Action to Facilitate Social Distancing, 171 FERC ¶ 61,004 (2020)
Supplemental Notice Waiving Regulations, Docket No. AD20-11-000 (April 2, 2020)
Supplemental Notice Waiving Regulations, Docket No. AD20-11-000 (May 8, 2020)
Supplemental Notice of Technical Conference, Docket No. AD20-17-000 (June 5, 2020)
North American Transmission Forum
FERC Update on Building Status, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC: News Releases (May 8, 2020)
Coronavirus Update: FERC Acts to Help Regulated Entities Manage Compliance, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC: News Releases (April 2, 2020)
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