FERC’s Chatterjee vows to support coal, nuclear

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News repo • Posted: Tuesday, August 15, 2017

In his first substantive public remarks since being named chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week, Neil Chatterjee talked up the importance of coal and “baseload power.”

In the comments, part of an official FERC podcast called “Open Access,” Chatterjee said his first priority will be to get started on an accumulated backlog of orders.

“I heard about it all through the Senate confirmation process. There’s a lot of consternation out there, and I’m committed to working with my colleagues to get after it right away,” Chatterjee said.

Millions of dollars of infrastructure, including major natural gas pipelines, has been in limbo since FERC Chairman Norman Bay resigned in February, leaving the body without a quorum and unable to give final approvals.

Chatterjee also said he wanted to focus on ensuring the reliability and resilience of the electric system — specifically by supporting “baseload” coal and power plants.

“I believe that generation, including our existing coal and nuclear fleet, need to be properly compensated to recognize the value they provide to the system,” he said.

The former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was particularly vocal about coal. “I’m a Kentucky native. I’ve seen firsthand throughout my life how important a contribution coal makes to an affordable and reliable electric system,” he said.

“Last year, coal provided over 80 percent of the electricity in Kentucky,” he said. “As a nation, we need to ensure that coal, along with gas and renewables, continue to be part of our diverse fuel mix.”

The comments align with the premise that Energy Secretary Rick Perry gave when ordering a controversial study of the electric grid: that coal and nuclear plants are essential for the grid’s reliability.

Progressive and environmental groups — and many independent experts — have challenged that concept, arguing it is possible to maintain stability even while continuing to use more renewables like wind and solar, and less coal (Greenwire, July 11).

Chatterjee, who was sworn in to the commission last week along with former Pennsylvania regulator Robert Powelson, is holding the gavel only on an interim basis. Jones Day energy lawyer Kevin McIntyre will take over if and when confirmed.

McIntyre and another nominee, Democratic Senate aide Richard Glick, are scheduled to face the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for a confirmation hearing Sept. 7.