Senators press regulators on rooftop solar, storage guidance

Source: By Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A group of 18 Senate Democrats yesterday renewed calls for the nation’s energy regulators to finalize an order to open wholesale electric markets to aggregated distributed energy resources.

In a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee, the lawmakers argued the finalized guidance would help put in place policies that bolster grid resilience and flexibility through power sources like rooftop solar and energy storage devices.

“FERC has the opportunity and authority to ensure that proper technology-neutral market rules are put forward to reduce barriers for [distributed energy resources (DER)] participation in our grid,” the senators wrote.

“The changes proposed in the DER rulemaking will not only help improve the reliability and resilience of the bulk power system by providing operators with new local tools to manage unanticipated events, but potentially lower costs for consumers,” the senators added.

FERC policy considerations for much of the past two years have largely focused on resilience arguments as coal and nuclear power plants announce their retirements and regulators look to ensure grid reliability is maintained through that shuttering process.

And, distributed energy has become a key component for lawmakers looking to address the climate implications of the energy sector along with the reliability issue.

The decentralized nature of the energy production, however, has presented some confusion for grid operators as to how best to utilize the resource as well as how to better introduce transparency about where the energy resources are running on the grid at large to ensure consumers aren’t paying high costs.

The letter, led in part by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), follows a similar letter the group sent in May 2018 after FERC held a technical conference on the issue of aggregated distributed energy resources (E&E News PM, May 23, 2018).

FERC had originally included consideration of distributed energy resources as part of its broader look at ways to enable energy storage technologies to enter into the electric marketplace. The commission went forward with the energy storage part in a February 2018 order, but it left the distributed energy portion for later after an information-gathering campaign.

The topic has been a focus for Chatterjee, who made commitments to Whitehouse and Markey during his confirmation process that he would work expeditiously to introduce the needed changes to further unleash energy storage and distributed energy resources.

In his year-end review FERC podcast, Chatterjee listed the energy storage order as a highlight for the commission in 2018, and he listed the final rule for distributed energy resources as one of the issues he expected the commission to work on in 2019.

The lawmakers asked for an update on FERC’s efforts by the end of February.

Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Mike Levin (D-Calif.) plan to send a similar letter from the House, the senators noted.