FERC chief decries ‘hyperbolic’ reaction to Perry plan

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, November 17, 2017

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee defended his work today on a proposal to boost coal and nuclear plants in what could be his last public comments as head of the agency.

Chatterjee has been leading FERC’s efforts to review a directive from the Department of Energy, which called on FERC to change electricity market rules to compensate “fuel-secure” generating units.

The proposal, while backed by the coal and nuclear industries, has taken heat from many other directions, including the oil and gas and renewable sectors, which deny DOE’s claim that plants that can stockpile 90 days of fuel provide valuable contributions to the grid’s resilience.

Chatterjee has been explaining details of how he wishes to approach the plan in recent weeks, arguing FERC should come up with an “interim solution” to provide relief to coal and nuclear plants facing early retirement, while the agency studies the issue long-term.

He told Utility Dive yesterday he’s pushing for the commission to issue a “show cause” order to regional grid operators to update their tariffs to support plants that provide “necessary resilience attributes.”

And after FERC’s monthly public meeting in Washington today, Chatterjee distanced his work from Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s initial proposal, calling negative reactions from observers “hyperbolic.”

“People are still debating the [proposal] as it was submitted to us,” he said. “We’ve moved past that and are moving towards a constructive solution that still answers the questions that Secretary Perry asked in the NOPR [notice of proposed rulemaking] in a way that does not distort markets and is legally defensible.”

“I don’t think there’s any threat to the renewables industry here,” he said, and added that he “genuinely believe[s] this will not have a negative impact on gas.”

He also said that because it would support carbon-free nuclear plants, the proposal if enacted would be “at worst carbon neutral, probably carbon negative.”

Complicating matters for Chatterjee is the fact that he could lose his authority as chairman “any day now,” as energy lawyer Kevin McIntyre has been confirmed by the Senate and is waiting to be sworn in.

McIntyre has not spoken publicly about how he feels about DOE’s proposal, and observers have said they have no idea whether he will follow the current chairman’s lead.

But Chatterjee will still have a vote on FERC and said he is committed to pushing his plan and earning votes for it on the five-member body.

When asked by reporters why he has been floating details of his plan to the media, the former longtime aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “I studied for eight years under the master of getting these kinds of things done.”

‘C-List actors’?

The commission this morning released enforcement statistics showing it closed 16 investigations in the last year, including five through settlements that included $51 million in civil penalties and $42 million in disgorgement of unjust profits.

That doesn’t include a $105 million settlement with Barclays, which was accused of manipulating electricity markets in the West, because that deal was finalized earlier this month after the fiscal year was over (E&E News PM, Nov. 8).

The agency’s audits division also completed 11 reviews of utility and pipeline companies, producing 301 recommendations and $13.3 million in refunds and recoveries.

The commission also approved more than two dozen orders today. One of them, a decision denying requests by landowners for a rehearing on FERC’s decision to approve Millennium Pipeline Co.’s Valley Lateral Project in New York, drew a protest today as actor James Cromwell and two other people stood and expressed their disapproval.

Said Chatterjee after the meeting: “Who said FERC’s an obscure agency? We’ve got C-list actors coming to our meetings.”

Cromwell, 77, had major roles in “L.A. Confidential,” “The Green Mile” and “The Queen,” among other movies. He was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for “Babe” in 1995.