How Richard Glick may drive 100% clean energy plan

Source: By Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, January 24, 2021

President Biden’s decision yesterday to tap Richard Glick as the top federal energy regulator puts the former Senate staffer at the forefront of implementing the administration’s goal of decarbonizing the electric sector in the next 15 years.

While some sources said they’re expecting a sea change in policies at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under Glick, others question if the former energy lobbyist and general counsel for Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will open up the nation’s markets to competition needed to spur renewable deployment.

“This is a flashpoint of change,” said Paul Bledsoe, an energy consultant and climate change adviser under Presidents Obama and Clinton. “Biden’s agenda is going to forever change long-term incentives toward low- and zero-carbon emissions reductions, and Glick’s chairmanship fits within that arc of a clean energy transition.”

Biden is readying his administration to address climate change, including by rejoining the Paris climate accord and reviewing the Trump administration’s reversal of methane regulations for oil and gas production.

While Glick declined requests for comment, close agency observers say he will prioritize reducing power market barriers for low-carbon energy, tackling regional transmission planning, expanding climate change reviews for natural gas projects and increasing public participation at the commission, among other items.

Glick’s sharp dissents and public comments over the last few years under Republican leadership also highlight these areas as policy priorities.

Biden yesterday appointed Glick to replace Republican Commissioner James Danly as chair (Greenwire, Jan. 21).

Glick joins a majority-Republican commission, including Democratic Commissioner Allison Clements and three Republican commissioners: Neil Chatterjee, Mark Christie and Danly.

But analysts have noted that Chatterjee, the agency’s former chairman whom President Trump unexpectedly demoted earlier this year, has started crossing the partisan line and voting with the agency’s Democratic members.

And while Republicans will hold FERC’s majority until June, when Chatterjee’s term expires and Biden can appoint a Democrat to take his place, analysts say commissioners may find common ground on a number of issues that could affect Biden’s agenda, such as building out the nation’s grid through multistate transmission lines. Additionally, Chatterjee, a swing vote, has indicated he is open to working with Democrats to expand climate change reviews for fossil fuel infrastructure projects.

Bledsoe, who now serves as a strategic adviser for the Progressive Policy Institute, said Glick is perfectly positioned to pursue grid decarbonization strategies in a way that also accommodates the utility industry.

“And it’s both those pieces that together are unique,” he said. “He is trusted by the electric utility industry to work with them to enact achievable, low-cost and durable decarbonization solutions.”

But one industry source who asked to remain anonymous because they have business before FERC noted that while Glick’s views align with Biden’s, he is independent of the White House as chairman of the commission. Independent agencies are considered part of the executive branch and possess rulemaking authority, but they operate outside Cabinet-controlled executive departments (Energywire, Dec. 17, 2020).

So far, Glick has earned the praise of both clean energy groups and the Edison Electric Institute, a large utility trade group.

Yet one former Democratic FERC chairman, Jon Wellinghoff, expressed reservations about Glick’s ability to meet Biden’s clean energy goals. Wellinghoff, who served under Obama from 2009 to 2013, pointed to a vote Glick cast last summer that allowed transmission owners in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest to maintain control over local transmission projects.

“I’m very concerned,” he said. “He had an opportunity to stand up on something that’s extremely important to ensuring renewables are integrated into the system. Unfortunately, he was AWOL.”

The transmission connection

Biden’s climate action plan calls for marshaling historic investment in energy efficiency and clean energy. John Moore, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and director of its Sustainable FERC Project, said transmission will be key for accomplishing that goal. And Glick is likely to make it a “big deal” early in his tenure as chairman, Moore said.

“We’ve got a Biden administration with an ambitious climate agenda, so FERC has a very clear role to play in helping meet those goals by breaking down the barriers to clean energy integration into the grid,” he said.

Transmission advocates argue that a significant build-out is necessary to deliver low-carbon resources like wind and solar to load centers — for example, from the rural West to population centers in the East.

An industry source said Glick is frustrated that Order No. 1000 — a policy the commission finalized in 2011 that lays out a host of rules for transmission planning and cost obligations — hasn’t succeeded in moving regional transmission projects forward — namely, high-voltage, long-distance transmission projects needed to tap into remote renewable energy pockets.

“The right transmission projects are not being planned and advanced in this country, and he wants to do something about that,” the source said.

Larry Gasteiger, executive director of WIRES, a trade association that promotes investment in the high-voltage grid, said that transmission planning is “ripe” for bipartisan action.

“There isn’t disagreement on the commission about the fact that significant transmission development is going to be needed for a number of reasons,” he said. “It’s not just clean energy issues. Resilience is a huge driver. Physical or cybersecurity threats. Aging infrastructure or responding to extreme weather events.”

But Wellinghoff said he’s concerned, given Glick’s vote last August.

The FERC measure that passed would allow transmission owners operating in the PJM Interconnection, the nation’s largest regional grid operator, to retain control over local projects that will replace aging transmission assets. Local projects are not subject to a competitive process.

Opponents of the plan, who filed a separate proposal, argued that the move disincentivized regional transmission planning.

Regional planning requirements put forth in FERC’s transmission rule Order No. 1000 require a competitive process. By allowing transmission owners to retain full control over local projects without a competitive process, it disincentivizes them to invest in and coordinate regional projects, the opponents said. That, in turn, could stall the build-out of multistate transmission networks that analysts say are necessary to carry renewable energy to urban centers.

“I have some concerns [about whether] he’s going to ensure anti-competitive behavior and structures in wholesale markets and transmission development are eliminated,” Wellinghoff said. “That was a very hotly contested case, and he came down on the wrong side of it.”

He added: “You have to look at what people do and not what they say.”

Jeff Dennis, a managing director and general counsel at Advanced Energy Economy, said there’s a balance to be struck.

“One individual vote in one particular matter is not necessarily indicative of how [Glick] might weigh those different trade-offs when it comes to relooking at the commission’s transmission planning rules in a broader proceeding,” he said.

‘Rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic’

Glick has signaled priorities that appear to dovetail with Biden’s climate focus — when it comes to power markets and pipelines.

On the market side, Glick has taken issue with a rule FERC implemented in 2019, the minimum offer price rule, or MOPR, in the PJM Interconnection. Broadly, the rule blocks sources of generation that receive government subsidies — like many wind and solar farms — from competing in capacity markets.

Capacity markets offer a way for grid operators to secure enough power generation to meet demand in the future. Generation resources like a coal plant or wind farm bid into periodic auctions to qualify to provide future electricity.

“He’s been very clear about the fact that FERC’s policy on discriminating against state clean energy policies is just like a car that’s about to run off a cliff,” Moore said. “And so I think he’s going to start looking more seriously at the MOPR rule and capacity market more generally.”

Wellinghoff said that in order to truly remove barriers to competition for renewables, participation in regional grid organizations should be mandatory, an effort former Republican FERC Chairman Pat Wood III tried and failed to push through (Energywire, Dec. 17, 2020).

“It’s all rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic, otherwise,” Wellinghoff said. “You’ve got to get a new boat, and if you don’t do that, you’re sunk.”

Commissioners also have been divided along party lines about how closely the panel must review the climate change impacts of natural gas pipelines and other large-scale infrastructure projects.

But Glick has consistently argued that the agency is not meeting its obligations under the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act and Natural Gas Act.

“It’s not a secret that Chairman Glick has been extremely critical of the approach FERC has historically taken to consideration of greenhouse gas in both its review of interstate pipelines and [liquefied natural gas] terminals,” said Gillian Giannetti, a lawyer in NRDC’s Sustainable FERC Project. The group advocates for low-carbon energy sources and operates a website that helps translate FERC’s often-convoluted regulatory debates and decisions for the general public.

Giannetti said that if FERC broadens its review of emissions associated with natural gas projects, that won’t necessarily translate into fewer project approvals.

“All it means is FERC needs to take into consideration the climate and environmental impacts and balance those against the purported benefits,” she said. “At the moment, FERC has long avoided doing so.”

Reporter Hannah Northey contributed.