FERC to launch ‘significant outreach’ on Clean Power Plan

Source: Rod Kuckro and Emily Holden, E&E reporters • Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will soon begin an informal effort to engage stakeholders nationwide about a range of concerns with U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, said FERC Commissioner Colette Honorable in an interview.

The effort, coming more than five months after the final rule was published, will be led by FERC staff, Honorable said.

“We need to be proactive, and we need to be acting now and not just talking about it,” she said, describing “what I would characterize as a significant outreach effort with stakeholders.”

“We are planning in the next weeks or so to reach out to state regulators, air regulators, consumer groups, [regional transmission organizations (RTOs)] and [independent system operators (ISOs)], industry, public power groups, generators and others,” she said.

Until now, the extent of FERC’s work since EPA issued its final rule to curb carbon emissions from the power sector has been periodic interagency meetings with staff from EPA and the Department of Energy, chiefly focused on issues surrounding grid reliability.

“It’s important for us to stay connected,” Honorable said of FERC’s sister agencies. “Inasmuch as we accept and know that we are not the environmental regulator, the EPA knows they are not the reliability regulator.

“It’s more than just information-sharing. I believe that these are ways for us to assess issues that have been raised and find interagency ways to address them and to provide advice and counsel to the EPA,” she said.

But the nationwide outreach to the broad spectrum of parties with skin in the game reflects FERC’s belief that it has to interact with “state regulators and air regulators in the first instance who have to develop the plans and implement them,” as well as others who will “work collaboratively to execute the plans clearly with the focus on reliability, cost and how it will impact consumers,” said Honorable, one of three Democratic commissioners.

Initially, the outreach effort would be less formal than the series of regional meetings FERC held in 2015 on the proposed EPA rule, Honorable said.

Instead, the agency is likely to use venues such as the upcoming winter meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in Washington, D.C., to learn about “any barriers that occur with regard to our processes here at FERC” relating to complying with the EPA rule.

Republican FERC Commissioner Tony Clark told House lawmakers last month that it may be difficult for states to construct new gas pipelines and power lines in time to comply with the Clean Power Plan, which begins in 2022.

Honorable noted that 92 percent of pipeline applications are completed by FERC within 12 months, though she acknowledged that the transmission process is “much more challenging.”

She said she hopes the commission’s Order 1000 will help to smooth out regional transmission planning, and she defended state and municipal autonomy over approving or disapproving local lines.

“I support creative ways that we can think about how we expedite and move those lines forward,” Honorable said. “I’m not so sure that removing that jurisdiction from the states is the best way to do that.”

Keeping states in the loop

Before joining FERC in January 2015, Honorable was chairwoman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, as well as president of NARUC. In her brief tenure at the agency, she has been an advocate for heeding the views of state regulators as they grapple with federal regulation.

“I would not want to attempt to suggest to my state colleagues how they should go about their business, but, having been a state regulator, I wasn’t afraid to look for help where I could find it,” she said.

So she suggests looking to efforts by “entities that don’t have a dog in the hunt, so to speak,” as they conduct analyses of and meetings on the nuts and bolts of the Clean Power Plan to inform state regulators.

“When I was chairman of the Arkansas commission, we didn’t have a large staff, and we just didn’t have the bench to spend a lot of time on modeling and such, so our ability to harness that expertise elsewhere was very helpful,” Honorable said.

As examples, she cited work by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., the RTOs and ISOs, and think tanks such as the Great Plains Institute, Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Bipartisan Policy Center in studying “what this new energy future would look like with implementation” of the Clean Power Plan.

“There is value in all of this work if we understand this important caveat: Until we know for certain which plants are online, which plants are offline [when the compliance period nears its end], we really can’t know for sure the cost impacts and the reliability impacts,” she said.

The studies she has been highlighting are ones by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator and the Southwest Power Pool, “which clearly and strongly support the notion that regional planning will save consumers significantly — as much as 40 percent in regional planning versus state-by-state planning” in terms of compliance with the EPA rule’s carbon emissions reduction goals.