The steps in a BPA rate hearing are identical for setting power rates or transmission rates.
Prior to the start of the formal ratemaking process (which begins with the publication of a notice in the Federal Register, BPA hires an independent Hearing Officer, usually an administrative law judge, to preside over the formal rate proceeding. The Hearing Officer does not judge the merits of BPA's rate proposal or issues raised by parties. He or she ensures that a complete official record of the rate proceeding is compiled and submitted to the BPA Administrator. All testimony, exhibits, and comments become part of this official record. The BPA Administrator uses this Official Record to make decisions to be reflected in the final rates as documented in the Administrator’s record of decision.
1) BPA publishes a summary of its Initial Proposal in the Federal Register. This is referred to as the Federal Register Notice or FRN. This publication begins the period prohibiting ex parte communications regarding rate case issues, as well as the formal (legal rate proceeding) conducted pursuant to section 7(i) of the Northwest Power Act. The FRN invites entities able to demonstrate a specific interest in BPA's rates to file petitions with the Hearing Officer to become an official party to the rate proceeding.
2) Approximately two weeks after the FRN is published, BPA holds a prehearing conference at which time the Initial Proposal is formally released. The Initial Proposal contains BPA staff's direct case and includes testimony, studies, and documentation supporting the factors BPA staff considered to insure the proposed rates recover expected costs. These documents may include:
- Revenue requirements study;
- Market price forecasts;
- Load and resource projections;
- Cost of service and rate design study; and
- Risk analysis.
At the prehearing conference, the Hearing Officer issues orders establishing the schedule, procedures, party status and other details of the ratemaking process.
The filing of all documents in the rate case and service of those documents to the parties are conducted electronically via a secure rate case web site provided by BPA.
3) Next, the parties file their direct cases with the Hearing Officer in the form of written testimony and supporting documentation. The parties' direct cases respond to BPA staff's Initial Proposal on areas of concern to them.
4) The litigants review the parties' direct cases and then file rebuttal testimony.
5) BPA staff and all parties are subject to cross-examination on all testimony and evidence that they have submitted.
6) Parties then submit their Initial Briefs, which summarize the technical and legal basis for their positions that are contrary to BPA staff. Parties are also offered the opportunity to present oral argument to the Administrator.
7) The BPA Administrator prepares a Draft Record of Decision (Draft ROD) and distributes it to the rate case parties. The Draft ROD lays out all of the rate case issues with an evaluation of the positions held by the various parties. The parties can respond to the Draft ROD by filing Briefs on Exceptions.
8) The Hearing Officer submits the entire Official Record of all the above materials to the BPA Administrator, who then prepares the final Record of Decision. The Final ROD contains a summary of the rate case process and the Administrator's reasons supporting the final decision on each of the issues. The Final ROD is published with BPA's final rates, which incorporates all of the final decisions, along with the Rate Schedules and General Rate Schedule Provisions (GRSPs). These documents are incorporated into the Official Record of the rate proceeding.
9) BPA submits the final Official Record to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) at least 60 days before the new rates are to be effective, usually October 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
10) FERC gives interim approval shortly before October 1 to allow BPA to begin charging the new rates by the date they become effective. Final approval follows FERC's review of BPA's filing, which may take from one or more years.
This concludes the formal rate proceeding.