On April 19, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Hughes v. Talen Energy Marketing and several consolidated companion cases. The Court considered whether Maryland encroached on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) rate-setting power when directing its local electricity distribution companies, via a “Generation Order,” to enter into a fixed-rate contract with an energy provider selected through a bidding process. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that Maryland’s Generation Order was preempted by federal law because it effectively set the rates the producer would receive for sales resulting from a regional auction overseen by FERC, and in effect also extended a three-year fixed price period set under the Federal Power Act to twenty years. The questions before the Supreme Court were: (1) Whether, when a seller offers to build generation and sell wholesale power on a fixed-rate contract basis, the Federal Power Act field-preempts a state order directing retail utilities to enter into the contract; and (2) whether FERC’s acceptance of an annual regional capacity auction preempts states from requiring retail utilities to contract at fixed rates with sellers who are willing to commit to sell into the auction on a long-term basis.
By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Fourth Circuit. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court, holding that Maryland's regulatory program--which disregards an interstate wholesale rate set by FERC--is preempted by the Federal Power Act, which vests in FERC exclusive jurisdiction over interstate wholesale electricity rates. Justice Ginsburg’s opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
To discuss the case, we have James Coleman, who is Assistant Professor at University of Calgary Law School.