Across much of the United States, the number of municipalities imposing stormwater management fees upon property owners has increased dramatically in recent years.  The rising prevalence of stormwater management fees has predictably led to local and state court challenges by businesses, as non-residential property owners are typically more severely impacted by stormwater management fees in comparison to residential property owners.  Affected businesses have questioned whether parcel-based stormwater fees constitute legitimate fees for services rendered or are simply revenue-generating taxes in disguise.

State courts have issued conflicting rulings on this question.  In the heartland, the Supreme Court of Missouri issued a 2013 decision striking down stormwater management fees and requiring municipalities to fund stormwater management programs through tax revenues.  In the northeast, the Supreme Court of Maine conversely issued a 2012 decision affirming a stormwater management fee program as a fee for services rendered.

It now appears that Pennsylvania jurisdictions will have an opportunity to weigh-in on this critical debate.  In January 2018, the Chester Business Association filed injunctions seeking to block imposition of a stormwater management fee proposed by the Stormwater Authority of Chester.  Similarly, an attorney and property owner in the city of New Castle filed a complaint with the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas requesting that the court void stormwater management fees to be collected by the New Castle Sanitation Authority.

While the outcome of these cases remains uncertain, any decisions in these jurisdictions may not be dispositive as to rulings in other Pennsylvania jurisdictions, as stormwater management fees are complex and can be developed based on a variety of different models.  For both municipalities and businesses impacted by stormwater management fees, effective stakeholder engagement can ensure that legitimate stormwater management fees serve their intended purpose and avoid overly burdening property owners.  Attorneys at McNees can assist with review, analysis, and if necessary, litigation of stormwater management fees.

On January 25, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“USEPA”) issued guidance withdrawing the “once in always in” policy for the classification of major sources of hazardous air pollutants (“HAPs”) under section 112 of the Clean Air Act.  Under the new guidance, sources of HAPs previously classified as major sources may be reclassified as area sources when the facility limits its potential to emit below major source thresholds.

The guidance supersedes the “once in always in” policy that had been in place since May 1995, shortly after promulgation of the HAPs MACT rule.  Its rescission should provide incentive for HAPs reduction at facilities that are major sources by virtue of HAPs emissions.

The policy memorandum finds that the 1995 policy memorandum is contrary to the plain language of the Clean Air Act, which the current EPA interprets to not contain a time limit on when a facility emits or has the potential to emit HAPs in excess of regulatory thresholds.

USEPA intends to publish the memorandum in the Federal Register for comment but has commenced implementing it.  The EPA page addressing the policy can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/stationary-sources-air-pollution/reclassification-major-sources-area-sources-under-section-112-clean

In our November 6, 2017 post, Amy York alerted readers to the impact of Act 40 (an omnibus spending bill passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature on October 30, 2017) on the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS).  AEPS requires Electric Distribution Companies (EDC) and Electric Generation Suppliers (EGS) to procure a portion of the electricity they sell from alternative energy resources, including solar.

Traditionally, EDCs and EGSs have been able to meet this requirement by purchasing solar energy sourced anywhere in the regional transmission grid.  Act 40 limits the solar AEPS requirements to solar generation physically located in Pennsylvania.  As indicated in our November 6 blog post, this could eventually eliminate over 80% of currently-qualified solar generation and increase the price of solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) in Pennsylvania.

With the ink of Act 40 already dry, it now falls to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to determine how to implement the Act – especially its “grandfathering” provisions.  A broad interpretation could permanently allow out-of-state solar generators that are already certified to sell SRECs in Pennsylvania to continue to do so.  It could provide a temporary grandfathered status to out-of-state solar generators that were not certified before October 30, 2017, but nonetheless had a contract to provide SRECs in Pennsylvania.  Finally, it could allow for “banked” out-of-state SRECs to still count toward Pennsylvania requirements.

In contrast, the Commission could take a narrow interpretation of the Act.  In that case, all grandfathering would be temporary—only for the duration of existing contracts.  An out-of-state solar generator without both Pennsylvania certification and an executed contract before October 30, 2017, would likely receive no grandfathering status.  It is unclear whether “banked” SRECs from non-grandfathered facilities would continue to count toward Pennsylvania requirements.

On December 21, 2017, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued a Tentative Implementation Order to provide its tentative interpretation of the new AEPS rules and to ask for comments.  The Commission’s proposed interpretation is broad, allowing permanent grandfathering status for currently-certified out-of-state solar generators.  However, Commission Chairman Gladys M. Brown and Vice Chairman Andrew G. Place issued a joint statement proposing a narrow interpretation of the Act and seeking comments.

The Commission will accept comments on these issues until February 5, 2018.  Sometime after that date, we expect that the Commission will issue a new Order providing its definitive interpretation.

To learn more about how the Commission’s decision will impact the Pennsylvania SREC market and Pennsylvania electricity prices, please reach out to us and follow this blog.  If your organization is interested in submitting comments to the Commission on this issue, we may be able to help.  Please do not hesitate to contact us.

On January 5, 2018, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC” or “Commission”) reserved a public docket to review the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the federal tax reform bill that was signed into law on December 22, 2017, on utilities and companies under the PUC’s jurisdiction.  The PUC has not issued a tentative order or any further guidance or details regarding the scope and objectives of the proceeding.

The Tax Reform Act of 2017 lowers corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%.  Because income taxes are a significant component of a public utility’s revenue requirements, the Commission will be investigating potential means by which to provide the benefits of the Tax Reform Act of 2017 to customers.  Regulators and consumer advocates in other states, including Oklahoma, Kentucky, Michigan, and Montana, have already begun taking steps to investigate the impact of the Tax Reform Act of 2017, including potential refunds or rate reductions for consumers.

We will provide additional information through this blog once the PUC issues more information regarding its proceeding.

On November 8, 2017, Aqua Pennsylvania (“Aqua”) filed a Complaint in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County against the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority (“BCWSA” or “Authority”), docketed at Case #2017-07215.  Joining Aqua as co-Plaintiff is J. Kevan Busik, a customer and ratepayer of BCWSA.

The Aqua Complaint alleges BCWSA (and ostensibly, all PA Municipal Authorities) has a significant competitive advantage for acquisition of water/sewer systems and seeks redress.  Specifically, the Complaint cites unfair competitive advantage of BCWSA (and other PA Municipal Authorities) in light of its exemption from property taxation, ability to raise capital via the issuance of tax-free bonds, and freedom from the substantial expense associated with regulation.  In addition, it notes that because no regulatory body has oversight of BCWSA to limit its rate setting capability, BCWSA is able to amass funds to give it a competitive advantage.

On an ironic note, the Complaint indicates that neither co-Plaintiff Busik, nor any other current customer of BCWSA, would benefit from acquisition of any other water/wastewater system.

The Complaint cites four separate Counts:

  • Count I seeks Declaratory Judgment requesting a Court Order in favor of the Plaintiffs declaring that, pursuant to the Municipal Authorities Act’s (“MAA”) Noncompetition Clause, BCWSA is prohibited from competing with Aqua (or any other privately owned public utility) that serves the same substantial purpose by bidding on acquiring any water or wastewater provider.
  • Count II seeks Permanent Injunctive Relief that enjoins BCWSA from bidding upon and being competitive with Aqua in the acquisition of any water and/or wastewater provider.
  • Count III seeks Declaratory Judgment declaring BWCSA’s expenditure of revenue generated by its service area to purchase and acquire any water or wastewater provider to be prohibited under the terms of the MAA.
  • Count IV requests Declaratory Judgment declaring BCWSA’s rates unreasonable and invalid under the MAA because of BCWSA’s use of funds to acquire water and wastewater systems rather than solely for providing for payment of expenses, construction, improvement, repair, maintenance, and operation of Authority facilities and properties.

Aqua is a public utility providing water and wastewater services to various Pennsylvania residents and is regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”).  BCWSA originally provided water/sewer service to residential, commercial, and industrial customers solely in portions of Bucks County, and only recently expanded its services beyond Bucks County.

Aqua notes that in purchasing and acquiring water/sewer systems from Pennsylvania municipalities, it is specifically bound by provisions of Act 12 of 2016, which sets forth procedural requirements for determining fair market valuation of acquired water and wastewater systems for ratemaking purposes.  BCWSA, in contrast, is not regulated by the PUC for provisions of service, setting of customer rates, or acquisition of new water or wastewater systems.  BCWSA also does not fall under the oversight of any other legislative or regulatory body that can limit rate setting, nor is it constrained by any Act 12 requirements.  BCWSA’s authority and powers are instead set forth, governed, and controlled by the provisions of the MAA.

Aqua’s Complaint further notes that pursuant to MAA, BCWSA is exempt from paying taxes or assessments upon property acquired or used by BCWSA for purposes of performing essential government services.  Similarly, BCWSA is authorized to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance its acquisitions and improvements of municipal water and wastewater systems, and the income from these bonds, including any profits made on the sale of these bonds, are exempt from taxation.  BCWSA’s operating income comes directly from the service revenues it receives from its water and sewer customers.

The Complaint identifies two local prospective sales of water/sewer systems in which both Aqua and BCWSA appear to be enormously interested (Cheltenham Township Sewer System and Exeter Township (Berks County) Wastewater System).  The Complaint also cites, for background purposes, BCWSA’s recent acquisition of the Springfield Sewer System.  BCWSA overcame two competitors – privately owned public utilities – and paid $16,500,100.  Aqua alleges the actual value of the Springfield System was approximately $9 million.

This Complaint will surely receive attention from all Pennsylvania public utilities and Municipal Authorities that have been looking to expand, by acquisition or combination, their water and sewer service territories.

 

Municipalities throughout Pennsylvania are in the process of implementing local stormwater ordinances and fees that will likely impact land development.  Recent changes to federal and state laws have forced municipalities to seek new funding sources, regulate businesses that have large areas of solid pavement and roofing (“impervious” areas), and limit stormwater impacts that occur from land development.  Businesses and developers should remain on the lookout for changes to local laws that will regulate stormwater, limit traditional land development, create quasi-governmental stormwater agencies (known as authorities), and impose stormwater fees.  Stakeholders should take advantage of opportunities to participate to limit any adverse impacts from these local government initiatives on their operations.  This article focuses specifically on Pennsylvania, but similar changes may be happening in municipalities throughout the country that are grappling with stormwater issues.

Businesses and land development within the borders of a regulated municipal separate storm sewer system (a system that has separate pipes to convey stormwater, known as an “MS4”) may be affected the most by local stormwater regulation, whether or not operations involve discharges into storm sewer pipes.  Municipalities regulated as MS4s have independent legal obligations related to stormwater management.  These obligations are implemented through their MS4 permits with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”).   An MS4’s compliance depends on land uses and practices of businesses within its borders.  One potential component of an MS4’s compliance is regulation of businesses and land development through ordinances.  For example, DEP requires minimum standards for stormwater controls in local ordinances and, to that end, has issued a model stormwater ordinance that MS4s are expected to implement, in some form, by September 30, 2022.  The permitting requirements are even more severe if the MS4 is within the Chesapeake Bay watershed or within an identified “impaired” watershed.

A list of the hundreds of regulated MS4s, by county, and their regulatory status is available on DEP’s website.  Businesses and developers within these listed municipalities, in particular, should be attentive to changes at the local level and take advantage of their opportunities to shape local laws to accommodate their current and future operations.  Below are some key points to consider.

Stormwater Authorities and Fees
Municipalities may now create stormwater authorities, which are separate local entities that have defined responsibilities such as stormwater planning, management, and implementation.  By law, stormwater authorities may generally impose “reasonable and uniform” rates.  A key point of contention at the local level will undoubtedly be whether rates imposed are “reasonable and uniform” based on the characteristics of the properties that are subject to the fees.

Fee structures vary widely from municipality to municipality.  The most simple is flat per-parcel fee. Another simple approach is the equivalent hydraulic area (EHA) approach, which features separate per-square footage rates for impervious area surfaces (parking lots and other paved surfaces) and pervious area surfaces (lawns, gardens, green rooftops).  Additionally, many municipalities may impose separate fees for non-residential and residential parcels, with residential properties typically charged a flat-fee, while non-residential properties pay more targeted fees designed to reflect each parcel’s total impervious area, such as a per-EHA rate. Typically, non-residential properties are subject to a broader range of fees based on higher variance in impervious surface areas among commercial and industrial parcels.  For example, a used car lot would likely pay more in stormwater fees than a hotel because used car lots cover a large swath of impervious pavement, while hotels would generally have a relatively smaller footprint of impervious area.

No matter how the municipality or authority structures its fees, the revenue generated from the fees may be used by MS4s to implement “best management practices” (“BMPs”) that control and reduce the discharge of stormwater, including sediment contributions (or “loadings”) to surface waters (sediment, or soil particles, is considered a pollutant).  BMPs can range from something as simple as more-frequent street cleaning, to something as burdensome as construction of retention basins and infiltration techniques.

Fee structures can (and should) include credit programs that reduce or eliminate fees for property owners who manage stormwater, such as by implementing their own BMPs.  A properly structured credit program will allow property owners to reduce the billed stormwater fees commensurate with reductions in stormwater runoff from the property due to implementation of BMPs.  Businesses should ensure that credit programs are considered and look for opportunities to implement BMPs that can result in credits and long-term cost savings.  Legal representation may be helpful to assist with proactive review of proposed stormwater programs in order to encourage development of fair and flexible stormwater fee structures.

Businesses and Development in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Businesses within the Chesapeake Bay watershed may be most affected by local regulation as MS4s attempt to meet more-stringent permit requirements in this region.  The Chesapeake Bay is considered “impaired” for sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorous.  Therefore, federal and state regulation have focused on these three pollutants and, in urban or developed areas, particularly sediment.  DEP permitting now requires MS4s in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to reduce sediment loadings to surface waters over the next several years and demonstrate those reductions (this is a new requirement for MS4 programs in Pennsylvania).  In turn, this means businesses and land development within the Chesapeake Bay watershed will be in the crosshairs for more local regulation through BMPs and fees.  Under DEP’s program, the amount of stormwater (or “volume”) is equivalent to “sediment” because higher volume results in stream scouring and stream bank erosion.  Businesses and developers may be forced to implement BMPs to reduce volumes discharged from properties where stormwater management was approved years or even decades ago.

Businesses and Development in Other “Impaired” Watersheds
Even beyond the Chesapeake Bay watershed, businesses and development within other, smaller watersheds throughout Pennsylvania that are considered “impaired” may be subject to additional local scrutiny for stormwater management.  MS4s are subject to additional permitting requirements similar to those for the Chesapeake Bay if they are located within certain smaller watersheds that are “impaired” for specific pollutants, including not only sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorous, but also pathogens, metals or acidity from abandoned mine drainage, and certain priority pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”) and pesticides.  In turn, this means the potential for more local regulation in MS4 municipalities that face these issues beyond the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Opportunities to Participate and Cooperate
When municipalities propose ordinances, fees, BMPs, and other measures to regulate stormwater, stakeholders should take advantage of opportunities to be in the conversation.  Early participation in the development of fee structures, in particular, can ensure that assessments are fair, reasonable, and uniform and include credit programs for implementing desired controls, preventing the need for litigation later (which has been common for stormwater fees throughout the country).  This includes having you, legal counsel, or other representatives attend public meetings, file written comments, and organize businesses in similar situations to oppose any inequitable treatment.

In addition, MS4 municipalities may look to private landowners and businesses to help them implement BMPs on private property.  This can involve questions related to funding, design and construction, and long-term operation and maintenance (“O&M”) agreements to ensure ongoing effectiveness of BMPs.  It may also involve restrictions on property, such as through deed covenants or use restrictions.  The opportunity to work collaboratively with a municipality on such projects can be beneficial for stakeholders and help frame the outcome, resulting in a win-win if done properly.  These opportunities may also expand beyond the borders of a municipality and involve cooperation with regional and county-wide initiatives (e.g., in York County).

Conclusion
Businesses and developers must remain vigilant in tracking proposed local regulation of stormwater. Early participation by stakeholders or their representatives can reduce the regulatory burdens, present a positive community image, and result in savings in the long run.

Please look for this article in the upcoming January/February 2018 issue of Metropolitan Corporate Counsel!

Governor Wolf has signed into law Act No. 40 under HB 118.  This Act, in addition to a number of other matters, adds language to modify the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS).   For your convenience, the actual language from the Bill is included at the end of this post.

The AEPS became effective on Feb. 28, 2005.  It requires that a specific percentage of electricity sold to Pennsylvania retail customers by Electric Distribution Companies (EDC) and Electric Generation Suppliers (EGS) should be obtained from alternative energy resources.  The percentage amounts of electricity covered by the purchase of Tier I, Tier II and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) gradually increases each year through 2021.  By 2021, AEPs mandates that 18% of all electricity will come from alternative energy resources.

The Pennsylvania market for SRECs has been primarily oversupplied for several years.  This is in large part because PA was one of only two states that allowed sites outside of its geographical footprint to provide SRECs to satisfy the PA AEPS requirements. Currently there are a number of solar/photovoltaic sites in other states registered to provide SRECs to PA AEPS.  Below is a chart complied from the publicly available qualified facilities data on the PA PUC’s website:   (http://www.pennaeps.com/reports/)

 

 

You can see in the chart, at the present time, PA has only approximately 19% of the total nameplate capacity of facilities qualified to provide SRECs into the market coming from within its borders.   Despite this, Pennsylvania was the state of origin for 74.1% of the SRECs retired under the AEPS statute in the 2015 Reporting Year.

One of the expectations of restricting geographical eligibility to allow only those sites within the Commonwealth to provide SRECs to satisfy PA’s AEPS is that we will see an increase in the value of PA SRECs.  For reference, the current market price is approximately $5.00/2017 SREC and the alternative compliance payment (ACP) for 2016 was approximately $124/SREC.  In the 2015 Reporting Year, the weighted average credit price was $78.62/2015 SREC.  The ACP is calculated as 200% of the average SREC price paid over the compliance year which runs June to May.  The price impact of the restriction may take a few years to materialize because existing contracts with facilities outside of Pennsylvania are grandfathered.

The second expectation is that some of the in-state PA solar projects that may have previously been shelved due to financial decisions may now become viable.

If you need assistance with these projects, or any other renewable or on-site generation issues, McNees has a team of energy managers, engineers, accountants and attorneys to help you.  Please feel free to contact Amy York (ayork@mcneeslaw.com) or any of our attorneys in the Energy and Environmental Group for more information.

As promised, the actual language from the Bill:

This new language, effective as of the date of the Act, or October 30, 2017, added to AEPS requirements that solar systems satisfy one of the following:

(I) DIRECTLY DELIVER THE ELECTRICITY IT GENERATES TO A RETAIL CUSTOMER OF AN ELECTRIC DISTRIBUTION COMPANY OR TO THE DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM OPERATED BY AN ELECTRIC DISTRIBUTION COMPANY OPERATING WITHIN THIS COMMONWEALTH AND CURRENTLY OBLIGATED TO MEET THE COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS CONTAINED UNDER THE “ALTERNATIVE ENERGY PORTFOLIO STANDARDS ACT.”

(II) BE DIRECTLY CONNECTED TO THE ELECTRIC SYSTEM OF AN ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE OR MUNICIPAL ELECTRIC SYSTEM OPERATING WITHIN THIS COMMONWEALTH.

(III) CONNECT DIRECTLY TO THE ELECTRIC TRANSMISSION SYSTEM AT A LOCATION THAT IS WITHIN THE SERVICE TERRITORY OF AN ELECTRIC DISTRIBUTION COMPANY OPERATING WITHIN THIS COMMONWEALTH.

As to what will become of the facilities currently registered outside of the state to provide SRECs, the law says this:

NOTHING UNDER THIS SECTION OR SECTION 4 OF THE “ALTERNATIVE ENERGY PORTFOLIO STANDARDS ACT” SHALL AFFECT ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

(I) A CERTIFICATION ORIGINATING WITHIN THE GEOGRAPHICAL BOUNDARIES OF THIS COMMONWEALTH GRANTED PRIOR TO THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THIS SECTION OF A SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC ENERGY GENERATOR AS A QUALIFYING ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE ELIGIBLE TO MEET THE SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC SHARE OF THIS COMMONWEALTH’S ALTERNATIVE ENERGY PORTFOLIO COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS UNDER THE “ALTERNATIVE ENERGY PORTFOLIO STANDARDS ACT.”

(II) CERTIFICATION OF A SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEM WITH A BINDING WRITTEN CONTRACT FOR THE SALE AND PURCHASE OF ALTERNATIVE ENERGY CREDITS DERIVED FROM SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC ENERGY SOURCES ENTERED INTO PRIOR TO THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THIS SECTION.

Over the past few weeks, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate have passed most of the bills that make up the revenue package to fund the previously-passed appropriations in the budget.  Significantly, the proposals endorsed in July by the Senate and the Governor to increase the utility Gross Receipts Tax (“GRT”) on electricity, and to expand the GRT to natural gas service, are not included in the Tax Code portion of the final revenue package.  The final funding package also excludes the Marcellus Shale severance tax and the suggested application of sales tax to commercial storage services (which were very broadly defined).

We will provide more information regarding the entire budget and revenue package at a later date.  In the interim, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact Pam Polacek (717-237-5368) or Kathleen Duffy Bruder (717-237-5318).

After December 7, 2017, new Pennsylvania land development projects that disturb in total over an acre of land will require an individual National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES’) permit.  Although the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PaDEP”) missed the window to timely reauthorize General Permit PAG-02, it has administratively extended existing issued permits which have not expired and do not expire in the interim, until December 7, 2018.  PaDEP has also stated that it intends to reissue a final PAG-02 well before December 8, 2018, most likely by the spring of 2018.

Furthermore, by administratively extending the existing PAG-02, PaDEP enables any previously issued PAG-02 permit that will expire or require amendment after December 7, 2017, to be renewed or amended by Conservation Districts, provided the coverage area is not expanded and the renewal/amendment is applied for on or before December 7, 2017.  We caution, however, that only timely application for renewal will extend your existing PAG-02 beyond its expiration.

After December 7, 2017 (until PaDEP finalizes the PAG-02 reissue), all new or amended acre-plus construction activity stormwater permits must be individual NPDES permits. While individual permits are typically reviewed and issued by PaDEP, not Conservation Districts, PaDEP has indicated that if your project would have qualified for the PAG-02, you may submit the same information and fees and follow the same instructions for an individual permit application as you would have for a PAG-02 NOI (Form 3150-PM-BWEW0035), by checking the box for the “Individual” Permit Type. Similarly, if your NOI is pending and will not be issued by December 7, 2017, you should submit Form 3150-PM-BWEW0035, with the box for the “Individual” Permit Type checked.  Conservation Districts will conduct the entire review, with consultation with PaDEP as necessary, and will issue the individual permit.

However, if you do not anticipate beginning construction prior to the date PaDEP finalizes the PAG-02 reissue, you may submit your PAG-02 to your Conservation District and request that a review be conducted, but final action will be delayed until PaDEP completes the reissue.

Application for an individual permit would typically be published for comment (not simply the issuance). The permit itself may contain additional terms and conditions, and the full review would be performed by PaDEP. However, during this interim period, PaDEP has indicated that for new projects that would normally qualify for PAG-02 coverage, conservation districts will conduct the entire review (with consultation with PaDEP as necessary) and issue the permit. It further provides that the applicant may submit the same information and fees for an individual permit application as it would for a PAG-02 Notice of Intent, but make sure to check the box for “Individual” for Permit Type and follow the applicable instructions as if the applicant was submitting a PAG-02 NOI. Typically individual permits are reserved for projects in special protection waters and projects within an impaired watershed.

PaDEP has established a webpage for updated information on this “Construction Stormwater” Issue.  It may be accessed here.

If you have questions about construction stormwater permits in general or your project in particular, please contact either Scott A. Gould (717.237. 5304, sgould@mcneeslaw.com) or Steve Matzura (717.237.5276, smatzura@mcneeslaw.com).

In April 2017, Energy Secretary Rick Perry issued a request for the Department of Energy (DOE) to organize a study examining electricity markets and reliability.  The request was looking to explore three specific concerns: 1) The evolution of wholesale electricity markets, including the extent to which federal policy interventions and the changing nature of the electricity fuel mix are challenging the original policy assumptions that shaped the creation of those markets 2) Whether wholesale energy and capacity markets are adequately compensating attributes such as on-site fuel supply and other factors that strengthen grid resiliency and, if not, the extent to which this could affect grid reliability and reliance in the future; and 3) The extent to which continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.

As one may imagine, this request led a number of environmental and intermittent resource groups to question exactly what this exercise was attempting to accomplish and if its findings would be politically focused.  After months of abundant speculation, on August 23, 2017 the DOE released its findings.  While the principal conclusions of the study will not come as a surprise to those in the electricity markets, the study seems to take a solid “middle of the road” approach.

Perhaps most significant in this otherwise extensive and unclear report was that the DOE did not find that renewables are a threat to grid reliability and also did not obviously state that coal was necessary for grid reliability.  They specifically said, “Hydropower, nuclear, coal and natural gas power plants provide [essential reliability services] ERS and fuel assurance critical to system resilience”.  By grouping these fuel sources all together they relax the discussion around each of these fuel sources, predominantly coal and nuclear.

The main take away from the study is that favorable economics of natural gas-fired generation was the primary driver of baseload (i.e. coal and nuclear) power plant retirements.  Low growth in electricity demand (attributed to some permanent loss of load from the economic downturn and energy efficiency policies) coupled with the expansion of renewables on the grid have also played pertinent roles in baseload retirements.  The report also touched on adverse economic impacts of the requirements for regulatory compliance for some baseload plants.  DOE primarily named coal and nuclear costs to implement the  Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS), the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the Cooling Water Intake Rule as reasons cited for additional plant retirements.

The report was expected not only to analyze but also provide “concrete policy recommendations and solutions”.  In this space, the recommendations presented were less concrete and particularly vague.   The bulk of the recommendations focused on FERC.  Some of those suggestions included having FERC expedite their ongoing efforts with states, RTO/ISOs and stakeholder input to improve energy price formation , studying and making recommendations on regulatory mechanisms to compensate grid participants for services necessary to support reliable grid operations and working to expeditiously process LNG export and cross-border natural gas pipeline applications.  The report also calls on DOE and other Federal agencies to accelerate and reduce costs for licensing, relicensing and permitting of grid infrastructure like nuclear, hydro, and coal providing some hazy “specific reforms” for these technologies.

The DOE is looking for the public to submit comments regarding this study, although it is also unclear who is receiving these comments and how long this window will be open. The report will not end the ongoing debates in various states regarding whether nuclear and/or coal generation resources should be subsidized to ensure that all existing plants remain in operation, even if particular plants are inefficient or uneconomic.  It also fails to address whether wholesale market changes adopted after the Polar Vortex (such as PJM’s Capacity Performance product) are sufficient to provide the additional compensation and market signals to ensure generation reliability.

For additional information, please reach out to: Amy York (ayork@mcneeslaw.com) or Pam Polacek (ppolacek@mcneeslaw.com).