Watchdog questions source of PJM’s political donations

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A consumer group filed a complaint with federal regulators today questioning whether the nation’s largest electric grid operator violated the Federal Power Act by giving ratepayer money to political campaigns.

PJM Interconnection — which coordinates the grid in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia — has given a total of $456,000 to the Democratic and Republican governors’ associations since 2007, according to a complaint filed by Public Citizen.

Filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the complaint faults the grid overseer’s reports for failing to say clearly whether the political spending was financed using revenue from ratepayers — which would be illegal — or from subsidiaries.

“PJM’s reporting to its stakeholders and FERC does not provide details adequate to determine which political spending uses filed-rate revenues and which does not,” the complaint says.

Tyson Slocum, Public Citizen’s energy program director, said, “At a minimum, it’s just trying to shed some transparency here on PJM’s operations.”

Slocum said that political contributions under PJM’s name imply the support of all its members — more than 1,000 utilities and other companies — which he said is unlikely.

PJM called the complaint “off base in many ways” and says it’s followed the relevant laws and regulations.

“PJM has paid fees to both the Republican and the Democratic Governors Associations to attend events and discuss industry issues,” the PJM statement says.

A spokesperson said that the payments to the governors’ associations were “annual business counsel membership fees that allow PJM to provide input and participate in policy summits on energy industry topics that could impact PJM’s members.” She said that the fees were collected from PJM’s filed rates as part of its external affairs and communications costs and were “not intended to support any political campaign.”

Public Citizen’s complaint also takes aim at PJM’s spending on lobbying, asking FERC to require it to disclose more details about those expenditures.

Using congressional records, the group said it found lobbying contracts that were never reported to PJM stakeholders or FERC.

Slocum pointed to a 2006 FERC order that requires another grid operator, ISO New England, to issue monthly reports about the details of its lobbying efforts.

“PJM needs to more clearly and in more detail report this information,” Slocum said.

PJM said the complaint “misrepresents the work done for PJM by organizations that inform it about legislative activities.”

“PJM must understand state needs,” the grid overseer said.

Complaints under Section 206 of the Federal Power Act that an electric rate is not “just and reasonable” can be filed by any person or entity. FERC will next decide whether to rule on the complaint or open public comment on it.