An article on Risk.net entitled Power trading firm blasts Ferc over manipulation probe tells an interesting tale.
In an unorthodox move, a little-known power trading firm has disclosed that it is under investigation by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Ferc) for market manipulation, mounting a vigorous public defence of its activities and arguing that Ferc has overreached in going after its trader.
The Risk article describes the issue this way:
Chen's trades made use of an obscure type of PJM transaction called 'up-to-congestion' (UTC) trades, which involve the scheduling of electricity flows across the border between PJM and one of its neighbouring wholesale power markets, such as the one operated by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (Miso). When carrying out a UTC trade, a market participant can specify the maximum level of congestion costs that he or she is willing to pay to move power across a particular path. For instance, if the threshold of the UTC trade is set at $50 per megawatt-hour (/MWh), then PJM will schedule the flow, as long as the congestion cost between the two specified nodes stays below $50/MWh. If the cost of congestion along that path rises above that level, the trade gets knocked out and no electricity flow is scheduled.
Powhatan – like other financial trading firms operating in US power markets – trades only 'virtual' power. In other words, whenever it schedules any electricity flows in the day-ahead market, it cancels them out in the real-time market, so no physical power actually flows. Such traders essentially act as arbitrageurs between the day-ahead and real-time power market.
Chen's trading strategy involved pairs of UTC trades, with two legs that ran in opposite directions along the same path — for instance, from the Miso border to a node in PJM, and back from that node to the Miso border. According to the documents posted on FercLitigation.com, Chen discovered a profitable trading strategy in which he could enter such paired UTC transactions and then collect money from transmission loss credits (TLCs) – a type of rebate payment that PJM makes to market participants that use its transmission lines. Until September 2010, when PJM implemented its rule change, it was possible for virtual traders such as Powhatan to collect TLCs from UTC transactions, even though they were not actually sending physical power through the grid.
Our friends at RTO Insider also have an article about this issue that provides more information and made me think that FERC might be behaving like a bully. But, I'm still having a hard time mustering up any real, personal sympathy for anybody involved in this case. It just doesn't tug my heart strings like senior citizens who can't pay their outrageous electric bill because there's so much nonsense added to the actual cost of service. Call me jaded.
So, is this the kind of aggressive FERC we would see under the leadership of Norman Bay, who was nominated for the Chairman position in January, after the big green failure of the Binz nomination late last year?
Bay will have to go through the same confirmation process that raked Binz over the coals, and no stone will be left unturned to pick him apart before the Senate Energy Committee.
Meanwhile, I think I'll go organize my record collection.