The Maine Public Utilities Commission, through a March 18 notice, initiated an emergency rulemaking proceeding to create a new rule, Chapter 319, to implement recently enacted legislation involving non-wires alternative (NWA) coordinator investigations.
As the commission noted, during its 2019 session, the state Legislature enacted An Act To Reduce Electricity Costs through Nonwires Alternatives, which established the position of an NWA coordinator in the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA). Generally, the duties of the NWA coordinator are to investigate and identify NWAs to transmission and distribution line projects, as well as to evaluate the costs and benefits of such NWAs compared to utility capital investments in the transmission and distribution system, the commission said.
Section 13 of the Act states, in part, that the commission, by rule, is to develop criteria to exclude from investigation by the NWA coordinator small transmission projects and distribution projects best suited to transmission and distribution investments, including projects that are:
- Necessary for redundant supply to a radial load
- Necessary to address maintenance, asset condition, or safety needs
- Necessary to address stability or short-circuit problems
- Required to be in service within one year based on the controlling load forecast
The commission added that Section 13 further provides that each investor-owned transmission and distribution (T&D) utility in Maine is to annually complete and submit to the OPA, for review by the NWA coordinator, a planning study for small transmission and distribution projects and that, with certain exceptions, for a proposed project presented in a planning study, the NWA coordinator:
- Is to investigate NWAs if the project is a small transmission project or is a distribution project estimated to cost $500,000 or more
- May investigate NWAs if the project is a distribution project estimated to cost less than $500,000 and, in the judgment of the NWA coordinator, there is a reasonable likelihood that an NWA would be more cost-effective than the proposed distribution project
The commission noted that it opened a notice of inquiry (NOI) in January to seek comments from interested stakeholders to assist the commission in the rulemaking proceeding. The commission said that it requested comments on the specific criteria that should be included in the rule to determine which transmission and distribution projects are excluded from the requirement for an investigation by the NWA coordinator. The commission said that it also requested comment on whether the rule should contain provisions on the criteria for the cost/benefit analyses of the NWAs.
Comments were filed by the OPA, Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), Efficiency Maine Trust (Trust), and Central Maine Power (CMP), the commission said.
Noting that the Act states that the commission is to develop criteria to exclude from investigation by the NWA coordinator small transmission and distribution projects best suited to transmission and distribution investments, the commission said that it interprets the Act’s language as directing it to adopt a rule excluding, at a minimum, the four categories identified in the statute and, to the extent necessary, provide guidance of how the commission interprets those exclusion categories.
Of the category involving projects required to be in service within one year based on the controlling load forecast, for instance, the commission noted that in its comments to the NOI, CMP proposed that the timeframe for those projects should be those required to be in service within three years based on the controlling load forecast instead of one year, stating that a timeframe of less than three years is not sufficient to complete all requirement components of the NWA solicitation process.
The commission said that the one year language is set by the statute and it is beyond the commission’s authority to change that timeframe in a rulemaking proceeding.
Also in that category, the OPA commented that there should be an initial screening for those projects to determine whether low-cost NWA and/or operational options are unavailable.
The commission added that it is unsure how that would work and seeks further comment of that matter from the OPA and other stakeholders.
Among other things, the commission noted that in the NOI, it requested comment on whether the rule should contain other provisions to facilitate the NWA investigation process, including the criteria for the cost/benefit analyses of NWA. The commission said that based on the comments in the NOI, it does not include issues related to the NWA investigation process in the rulemaking and, as the OPA suggested, requests that the stakeholders continue collaborating and present a recommended, mutually agreed NWA investigation process, including the cost/benefit analysis methodology, to the commission. The commission said that it will open a separate docket to review those issues.
The commission noted that emergency rules may be effective for up to 90 days, adding that it will complete a rulemaking process regarding Chapter 319 within that timeframe.
Among other things, the commission said that written comments on the proposed emergency rule should be filed by March 23 (Docket No. 2020-00085).