Legislative Announcements

Federal Government Shuts Down

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On January 19, the Senate failed to approve a House-passed Continuing Resolution to fund the government at last year’s levels until February 16. Several Republican senators voted against the deal, and Senate Democrats united against another funding extension without a deal to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Talks continue, but it is not known how long the shutdown will last.

A memorandum from the White House Office of Management and Budget was sent to department and agency heads January 19 and an archive of each department’s and agency’s contingency plans can be found here. The link is to an archive of the Obama White House’s Internet site, but the contingency plan links remain accurate. The Office of Personnel Management is also providing a draft letter for federal workers to share with creditors in case they are furloughed (as a result of the shutdown) and cannot make loan or utility payments.

Most agencies and departments with which public power utilities interact will not be immediately affected, though a longer lapse in funding could change that.

For example, according to the Department of Energy (DOE), most of DOE’s appropriations are “multi-year” or “no-year” and as a result most of its employees will continue to report for work as scheduled.  A prolonged lapse in appropriations may require subsequent employee furloughs, DOE explained. And even then, if there is an imminent threat to human life or protection of property, a limited number of employees may be recalled from furlough status. Likewise, grants and contracts already awarded and funded will also continue. For example, APPA’s work on a cooperative cybersecurity agreement with DOE will not be affected. The department said it will be able to shut down all non-excepted federal functions within a half day after available balances have been exhausted, with some exceptions involving the movement of nuclear materials.

In the meantime, agencies are implementing their individual contingency plans. Many will call upon prior-year reserve funds to continue normal operations as long as possible; it is likely those funds may suffice for one or two weeks before the cash is exhausted and further effects may be felt.

FERC Approves Supply Chain Standard

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On January 18, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proposed to approve a set of standards on supply chain risk management. The standards were drafted by the industry-led North American Electric Reliability Corporation pursuant to FERC Order No. 829, which had envisioned a standard under which utilities would negotiate certain security parameters with vendors before doing business with them.

Industry had expressed significant concerns about its ability to direct the business practices of large vendors with few suitable competitors (such as Microsoft, for example), and voted down a previous draft that would have required such actions. The second draft, which had received broad industry support, called for utilities to implement best practices in adopting a process to consider and address supply chain risks. Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, who dissented on Order 829, had expressed some skepticism about the “watered-down” version, but ultimately supported the standards.

The proposed approval also recommends further action on Electronic Access Control and Monitoring Systems, Physical Access Controls, and Protected Cyber Assets. It directs NERC to supplement the draft standard to include EACMS for medium- and high-risk cyber systems and to evaluate the supply chain risks of PACs and PCAs. It also calls for shortening the implementation period from 18 months to 12.

A rejection of the standard would have been a blow to the industry, which had struggled with the original order, and could have raised questions in Congress about the efficacy of the NERC-FERC standards-setting process.

House Holds Hearing on PURPA Modernization

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On January 19, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy held a hearing on the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978. The first panel included Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy Steven Winberg and FERC General Counsel James Danly. Witnesses on the second panel included industry and state regulators.

Full Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R–Ore.) noted during his opening statement that the nation’s power sector has undergone remarkable changes under the 40-year-old PURPA, which requires utilities to purchase power from renewable providers. He went on to state that Rep. Tim Walberg’s (R–Mich.) H.R. 4476, the PURPA Modernization Act of 2017, recognizes the need to update the law to address the challenges of the 21st century. Full Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D–N.J.) echoed Walden’s statement that the law should be updated, but opposed the Walberg legislation due to the lack of balance in protecting renewables providers.

Several members questioned the panel on how H.R. 4476 would affect those providers. Danly said that there would likely be changes to the market, particularly with renewables, but that it was up to Congress to address them. During the hearing, Karl Rabago of the Pace Energy and Climate Center argued against the repeal of PURPA at this time. Rabago said state regulators are not facing a PURPA crisis and that FERC has the “expertise to ensure that its rules adapt” to the 21st century and “evolving market conditions.” Other witnesses on the panel, including Timothy Sparks of Consumers Energy, noted that the law was simply outdated, and consumers were paying above market prices for renewables.

Senate Energy Committee Considers Global Energy Outlook

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On January 16, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing titled “Domestic and Global Energy Outlook.” The hearing featured Dr. Faith Birol of the International Energy Agency. In his testimony, Dr. Birol noted “four large-scale shifts” that are affecting global energy: clean energy technologies; American oil and gas leadership; China’s changing energy policy; and the expansion and increasing demand for electricity. He noted the expansion of clean energy technologies coming online faster and in greater numbers than before, but that reliability concerns continue to undermine the potential of renewable generation sources. In a similar vein, Dr. Birol noted that global electric consumption increases twice as fast as the increasing rate for overall energy consumption.

During the question period, Dr. Birol responded to a question by Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska) about which policies the U.S. should prioritize as it considers how to respond to the four shifts he raised. He said that the U.S. could do more to promote energy development for both oil and gas and renewable generation through tax and energy policy.

Senate, House Hold Additional Hearings on WRDA

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On January 17, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a second hearing on America’s water infrastructure from the federal point of view. Witnesses included Lieutenant General Todd Semonite of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Civil Works principal deputy assistant secretary Ryan Fisher. Chairman John Barrasso (R–Wyo.) initiated the hearing by noting the importance of modernizing levees and decreasing sediment buildup behind dams, and he questioned the panel on how to fix the $96-billion flood risk management backlog. Fisher responded that having discussions on public-private partnerships (P3s) and working with the Administration to find a solution was key.

Separately, on January 18, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on the approaches to enhance project delivery in water infrastructure. The hearing focused on the Corps’ current backlog and ways to fund projects resourcefully. Leah Pilconis of the Associated General Contractors of America noted that Congress should combine the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting processes at the national level to “reduce delays during project planning and permitting.”

Several members questioned witnesses on the use of P3s as an alternative form of payment for projects. Raking Member Grace Napolitano (D–Calif.) argued that although the Administration has plans to take up P3s in its infrastructure package, these arrangements are unable to singlehandedly improve infrastructure investment.

Bipartisan House Caucus Offers Infrastructure Plan

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On January 10, the House Problem Solvers Caucus released an infrastructure investment plan they hope will shape the anticipated debate on the Administration’s next legislative priority. The caucus is composed of 48 House members, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Their plan includes several provisions of interest to NWPPA, including one to urge Congress to preserve tax-exempt municipal bonds to finance infrastructure. Additionally, it supports grants to the DOE’s National Labs in support of grid modernization and the development of new grid technologies. NWPPA supports public power’s ability to issue tax-exempt bonds as well as the federal government’s role in promoting grid modernization technology development.

The Trump Administration is expected to release a plan in the next few weeks on infrastructure investment, and the topic will likely be a main component of the president’s State of the Union Address on January 30.

NWPPA’s Newly Proposed Resolutions for 2018: Reviews Welcomed

Update provided by Nicole Case

As a reminder, the NWPPA Government Relations Committee (GRC) initiated the Resolutions process for soliciting suggestions for new or revised resolutions for 2018 from the NWPPA membership at the September GRC and Board of Trustee meetings in Salt Lake City, Utah. The GRC Vice-Chair, Michelle Bertolino, made a formal call for resolutions and solicited participation on the Resolutions Committee (ResCom) for 2018.  Michelle will lead the work of the ResCom and the full NWPPA membership to develop a slate of resolutions for 2018.

Between now and the March GRC meeting, a membership grassroots process determines NWPPA’s resolutions.  The process follows protocols developed by the GRC and approved by the Board of Trustees.  NWPPA members have submitted 3 new resolutions for 2018 and several existing resolutions have been updated to reflect new or changing policy environments.   

All newly proposed resolutions are available on-line at the NWPPA GRC webpage.  Please go to www.nwppa.org/government-relations/ and click on proposed resolutions to access copies of the 14 resolutions that have been revised or newly proposed for review.  Submit any comments on these resolutions to Nicole Case at nicole@nwppa.org by February 1, 2018.

Per the Resolution protocols, all NWPPA members are invited to participate in a webinar of the Resolutions Committee at 10 a.m. on February 8, 2018.  Please contact Nicole Case at nicole@nwppa.org to receive participation instructions. 

For your information, the following details the resolutions protocol for 2018:

2018 Resolution Protocol Dates and Actions:

  • January 4 (approx. nine weeks prior to the March GRC Meeting) – all authorized representatives will be noticed of the opportunity to submit new resolutions or revisions/amendments to existing resolutions. This memo also serves as a preliminary notice that resolutions will be accepted up to January 18. 
  • January 18 (Seven weeks prior to the March GRC Meeting) – newly proposed and revised/amended resolutions are due from the membership.
  • January 18 (Seven weeks prior to the March GRC Meeting) – all authorized representatives will be noticed with copies of all resolutions submitted for consideration by the GRC; asked for input prior to the GRC Meeting; and invited to participate in a conference call of the Resolutions Committee to discuss the resolutions, verbiage changes, staff recommendations for resolutions to be archived or removed from archive and other matters related to the resolutions under consideration.
  • February 1 (Five weeks prior to the March GRC Meeting) – all comments on noticed resolutions are due including archive status and recommended adoption process (en bloc or individually).
  • February 8 (Four weeks prior to the March GRC Meeting) – the Resolutions Committee will convene by conference call or other electronic means to discuss and resolve all outstanding issues related to resolutions under consideration, and for review, by the GRC.
  • February 15 (At least three weeks prior to the March GRC Meeting) – “presentation ready” resolutions prepared by the Resolutions Committee will be noticed to all authorized representatives with recommendations as to whether they should be considered en bloc or individually.
  • March 8, at the March GRC Meeting – the “presentation ready” resolutions will be presented to the GRC by a representative of the Resolutions Committee who will summarize the reasoning behind the wording of each new or revised resolution. Authorized representatives may make one of four motions related to the “presentation ready” resolutions:
  • Option A: Move to accept a resolution or a set of resolutions as presented;
  • Option B: Move to refer back a resolution to the GRC Resolutions Committee by requesting further refinement in specific areas;
  • Option C: Move, by two-thirds majority vote of those present, to re-open a resolution for modifications at the GRC Meeting; or
  • Option D: They may take no action or vote to reject the resolution.

A final list of GRC approved, proposed 2018 Resolutions will be made available to the full membership following GRC consideration in March.  The membership will vote on the proposed 2018 Resolutions at NWPPA’s Annual Business Meeting in May in Boise, Idaho.

If you or someone at your utility is interested in serving on NWPPA’s GRC or the Resolutions Committee, please contact Nicole Case, at 503-530-0790.  All member systems are encouraged to participate in this important legislative/policy area.

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