FERC resets its review of Perry grid plan

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Five days ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had been preparing to weigh in on the hotly debated Energy Department proposal to support coal and nuclear plants.

On Thursday, new Chairman Kevin McIntyre was sworn in and promptly asked for a 30-day extension, which was granted Friday by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Now FERC will undertake a reset of sorts, as McIntyre and fellow Commissioner Richard Glick, who also joined the agency in the last two weeks, take a look at the 1,500 comments FERC has received on DOE’s directive.

The new commissioners alter the political calculus for supporters and critics of the plan, who have been trying to predict how the final votes might fall.

Neil Chatterjee, who had chaired the commission since August and has been leading FERC through its review of the DOE plan, said he would meet with McIntyre today for the first time since the new chairman was sworn in.

Chatterjee has for several weeks been pushing for a specific approach to the proposal, calling for an “interim solution” to provide immediate relief to coal and nuclear plants that are in danger of early retirement.

But he said today, at an event hosted by Axios, that his “first priority” is a long-term analysis of electric grid resilience, as opposed to the short-term lifeline for coal and nuclear.

“In doing that long-term analysis, if you have plants prematurely shut down that we find out after the fact that we needed, that would be problematic to me and I believe that we could potentially regret that. But that said, the more important focus is answering the long-term question of resilience,” he said.

The former chairman told reporters afterward, however, that he has not given up on his efforts to sway votes toward his plan for giving plants immediate help.

“To be clear, my colleagues have just got here, Chairman McIntyre was just sworn in on Thursday … I haven’t even had the opportunity to sit down with him yet. People are reading way too much into backing off, or anything.”

McIntyre, for his part, has not spoken publicly since his confirmation hearing in July, and has not weighed in on DOE’s proposal, which was released at the end of September.

“No one can govern by fiat at the commission; we’ve got to have consensus,” Chatterjee said.

FERC could act before Jan. 10. In his letter granting the 30-day extension, Perry warned that his agency would “continue to examine all options within [his] authority … to take remedial action as necessary to ensure the security of the nation’s electric grid.”

DOE has not specified what actions it would consider taking. It has already declined to invoke Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act, which would have allowed Perry to step in on an emergency basis, despite dire warnings from coal mining CEO Bob Murray about what would happen to coal plants without such action (E&E News PM, Aug. 22).

Murray has since backed away from those statements, saying last week that his company could survive on coal exports even if the federal government does not take immediate action (Greenwire, Dec. 8).

Chatterjee said he could not say whether he would support DOE taking matters into its own hands.

“I can’t comment on hypotheticals; I would have to see what that is, what it looked like and what it entails,” he said.

When asked whether Chatterjee and McIntyre would talk about the proposal at their meeting today, the former chairman laughed.

“It’s obviously high-profile. I imagine it’ll probably come up.”