Power companies ask Supreme Court to strike down nuclear power subsidies; Supreme Court denies petitions for writs of certiorari (update)

Update:  On April 15, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court denied, without decision, two petitions for writs of certiorari that were filed by one of the nation’s leading trade associations representing independent power producers. Those cases alleged, among other things, that ZEN legislation out of both New York and Illinois were preempted by federal law. The Court upheld the dismissal of the complaint in each case, and the Zero Emission Nuclear (ZEN) legislation in New York and Illinois was effectively upheld as not in violation of the Federal Power Act.

On January 7, 2019, the Electric Power Supply Association, one of the nation’s leading trade associations representing independent power producers, filed two petitions for writs of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. The writs for cert arise from appeals of a Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which is summarized here, and a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which is summarized here, that both upheld state subsidies for nuclear power generation facilities in New York and Illinois, respectively. The question presented by both appeals is “[w]hether the [Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. § 791a et seq.] preempts only state subsidies that explicitly require a wholesale generator to sell its output in FERC-approved auctions, or whether the FPA also preempts state subsidies that lack such an express requirement but that, by design, subsidize only generators that sell their entire output via such auctions, thereby achieving the same effect.”

Both petitions urged the Court to recognize the great importance of the decisions from the Second Circuit and Seventh Circuit if upheld. “The economic and policy stakes are enormous,” and the subsidies will grossly distort market outcomes. “Unless this Court intervenes, these subsidy schemes will impose huge costs and threaten serious distortions of the FERC-authorized mechanisms for setting wholesale rates at economically efficient levels and sending appropriate price signals to wholesale market participants.” To the petitioners, the decisions ratify “a fundamental transfer of regulatory authority to the States and away from the federal government and its policy of relying on market forces to set just and reasonable wholesale rates and send economically efficient signals regarding market entry and exit.”

This case will have major ramifications across the country but particularly here in Ohio, as the outcome could work to either essentially permit or effectively preempt future attempts at providing nuclear subsidies to failing generation facilities. The response date for both petitions has been set for February 7, 2019.

National, Oil & Gas Litigation