FERC commissioners hail decision on Perry grid plan

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The decision last week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to unanimously reject a Department of Energy proposal to compensate coal and nuclear plants in certain markets upheld the traditional independence of the agency, two commissioners said today.

Both Democrat Cheryl LaFleur and Republican Neil Chatterjee called the order, which along with turning down DOE’s directive opened a new proceeding to explore resilience in different regions, “FERC-like.”

They made the remarks while appearing at an event put on by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“I care deeply about the institution … its independence, its reliance on fact and law to make decisions, and the wonderful employees we have who are spending their careers with us, doing all this work for us,” said LaFleur. “I was very happy that we were able to come together on a consensus order and put our different thoughts in separate statements and move forward. It felt like a very FERC-like day, and in my value system, that’s good.”

The 5-0 vote also featured separate concurring opinions from LaFleur, Chatterjee and Democrat Richard Glick (Energywire, Jan. 9).

Chatterjee, who has said, including in his concurrence, that he would have liked to see FERC take immediate action to help keep plants from premature retirement, nevertheless also saw the decision as an affirmation of FERC’s fact-and-evidence-based regulatory style.

“I do think that despite the frenzied attention that was paid to the process throughout, that the ultimate conclusion was a very FERC-like conclusion,” he said. “The process also allowed for those of us who had our individual views on the proceeding to lay those out. There are distinctions between the concurrences, but we all came together on the order.”

Critics of Perry’s plan, which one observer called a “crazy Hail Mary,” have celebrated FERC’s decision as a triumph for good policymaking at the independent regulatory agency (Greenwire, Jan. 9).

Both LaFleur and Chatterjee are now turning their attention to the new docket, which requires six regional transmission organizations and independent system operators to report back to FERC within 60 days.

Both however, were reluctant to prejudge the outcome of the proceeding, which will also allow for 30 days of reply comments.

“We’ll see what comes forward in the docket,” said LaFleur. She did, however, say that it is possible that different proposals could come out of the different regions, which have unique challenges.

She cited New England, which has a limited amount of natural gas infrastructure and is challenged to secure gas for power generation, especially in the winter.

Both commissioners reserved praise for FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre, who took over as head of the agency on Dec. 7 and was thrown into the spotlight immediately as he was tasked with leading FERC’s response to the DOE plan.

“I think he was able to gain consensus because he did work with all of us. The underlying order has components that are directly attributable to each of us,” said Chatterjee.

LaFleur said McIntyre “did an excellent job figuring out where the center of the commission was and where the five of us could agree.” He also recognized that different commissioners have distinct voices and wanted the chance to insert their views separately, she added.