FERC sets regional conferences on climate rule’s reliability impacts 

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2014

Federal grid overseers today announced they will hold four technical conferences to delve into implementation and reliability concerns tied to U.S. EPA’s proposal to cut carbon emissions — a move that was quickly celebrated as a win by Republican lawmakers and regulators.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said it will convene the first meeting, the national overview technical conference, at its Washington, D.C., headquarters starting Feb. 19 to examine whether state regulators have the right tools to detect reliability or market issues and strategies for complying with EPA rules while coordinating with the markets that FERC oversees.

Staff-led regional conferences will then be scheduled in D.C., St. Louis and Denver.

FERC has been facing increasing pressure on Capitol Hill and from industry groups to weigh in on states’ implementation of EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. That push gained steam following the release of a high-profile report in November that questioned whether the nation’s power system could successfully shoulder such fast-paced changes under EPA’s timetable (EnergyWire, Nov. 5).

House and Senate Republicans earlier this month called on FERC to publicly meet with EPA, the Energy Department, state regulators and power companies to discuss grid reliability concerns and explain what they say is a failure to coordinate implementation of EPA’s proposal to cut carbon emissions (Greenwire, Nov. 25).

In the past month, two Republican members of FERC — Tony Clark and Philip Moeller — have said the commission should have a more formal advisory role as the EPA proposal takes shape.

FERC Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur said in a statement that the commission “clearly has a role to play” in ensuring that the nation’s energy markets and infrastructure adapt to support states’ compliance with the EPA proposal and said the conferences will provide an opportunity for regulators to hear from a wide range of stakeholders.

Clark issued a separate statement thanking LaFleur and welcoming the increased dialogue. Clark said FERC is uniquely situated to vet issues that arise as the Clean Power Plan is implemented, should the rule survive legal challenges.

“It is not difficult to envision scenarios in which a patchwork-quilt of implementation plans, if improperly crafted, either conflict with one another or with the Federal Power Act itself in ways that harm electric reliability and distort prices,” Clark said. “FERC is uniquely situated to vet these issues so that such scenarios are avoided.”

EPA also welcomed the commission’s announcement.

Liz Purchia, a spokeswoman for EPA, said the agency devoted significant attention to ensuring the rule didn’t interfere with the nation’s reliable and affordable supplies of power and has reached out “from day one” to the public, stakeholders and federal partners including FERC.

Purchia also defended EPA’s track record on safeguarding the grid.

“In the agency’s 40-year history, emissions from power plants have decreased dramatically, improving public health protection for all Americans, while the economy has grown,” she said. “During this time, there have been no instances in which Clean Air Act standards have caused the lights to go out.”

Despite warming to FERC’s announcement, a top Senate Republican slated to lead the Energy and Natural Resources Committee next year said today’s announcement didn’t make up for what she sees as EPA’s lack of coordination.

“A national conference, followed by three regional technical conferences, is no substitute for EPA’s failure to engage FERC and DOE in a formal, documented process to address the impact on electric reliability of EPA’s series of major rulemakings in recent years,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in a statement. “I remain hopeful however that the conferences will be useful to develop a better public record on these crucial questions, and I will remain as vigilant on this issue as I have been since 2011.”