House Democrats slam rewrite to utility rules

Source: By Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, November 11, 2019

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s plans to rework the implementation of a 1970s-era renewable energy law amount to a gutting of the statute, House Democrats said this afternoon.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) are demanding answers about the commission’s actions, including the rationale for the breadth of reductions proposed in regulatory changes under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).

Pallone and Rush allege that the proposed changes counter repeated congressional decisions to avoid major changes to the provisions of the law.

“FERC’s proposals would effectively gut PURPA and completely reverse course on competitive market development — a policy clearly enshrined by Congress in the Energy Policy Acts of 1992 and 2005 because it encourages innovation and benefits consumers and the environment,” the two said in an oversight letter to FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee.

“Equally concerning is that many of these proposals seem to have little to no record to support them,” the letter adds.

In total, the letter seeks answers to 16 questions addressing the changes laid out in the notice of proposed rulemaking by Nov. 22.

FERC moved to alter implementation of the law via a notice of proposed rulemaking approved in a party-line 2-1 vote in September (Greenwire, Sept. 19).

Among the changes, the commission would consider giving states more flexibility in how they set power rates from qualifying renewable energy facilities, allow a 95% reduction in the size of qualifying facilities and set up a tiered approach to the distance between them.

Chatterjee called the effort a needed update to better reflect the changed energy landscape compared with the energy scarcity fears that drove much of the 1978 law’s original implementation guidelines.

“It’s time to modernize the commission’s implementation of PURPA to reflect those significant developments,” he said during the September commission meeting announcing the proposal.

Originally enacted as a response to the energy uncertainty of the 1970s, PURPA has been a major driver of bringing more renewable energy facilities onto the grid.

Utility groups and state regulators have complained that the law is too intrusive by requiring power purchases that they say aren’t needed at higher-than-reasonable prices.

But advocates for more renewable energy have protected the law as a critical tool to deploying additional renewable energy resources on the grid.

“PURPA is an important law that protects competition, encourages development and deployment of more clean and efficient electricity generation, spurs innovation, and ensures equitable, affordable rates for consumers,” Pallone and Rush said.