Washington — James Danly gaveled in his first meeting as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, offering a sharp contrast in style with this loquacious predecessor and holding the line on key power market actions taken by the Republican majority.
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With Neil Chatterjee displaced from chairman's seat late Nov. 5 by the White House, Danly is expected to serve as chairman until late January, when President-elect Joe Biden is likely to name a Democrat to lead the key energy market regulator.
During brief opening remarks, Danly offered no commentary on the actions taken by the commission at the open meeting Nov. 19, in line with his decision to forego press briefings or interviews. Danly has cited a commissioner's adjudicatory role, in keeping with his past espousal of a "humble regulator" approach.
The panel tackled few gas items, having shelved plans to act on rehearing of a rule barring FERC from allowing pipeline construction to start when rehearing of certificate orders are pending.
On the power side, FERC largely affirmed its overhaul in July of the decades-old Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, a law aimed at boosting renewables and cogeneration facilities. The commission also denied rehearing on a March 2018 order approving an ISO New England two-step power capacity auction intended to accommodate states' energy policies and an order in May that rejiggered FERC's base methodology for return on equity for transmission projects.
While Danly thanked the president and his colleagues, he steered clear of comments explaining the commission's actions of the day.
"Neil and I have been at the commission together now for more than three years and it's been an honor to work for him and with him during that time, ... I just want to say in this forum, how much I appreciate everything and express my sincere gratitude to him," Danly said. He also noted Commissioner Richard Glick's "unfailing collegiality and receptivity."
Chatterjee gave a roughly 35-minute reflection on his chairmanship, recounting multiple accomplishments, including those that may have cost him the post, and offering thanks and, notably, congratulating "President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect [Kamala] Harris."
Chatterjee also defended for his more public-facing approach to leading the commission, citing steps to increase transparency, bolster contact with stakeholders and increase access to the news media.
"As I think we can all agree, especially in these unprecedented times, it is crucial that the American people have access to the facts, so they can make informed decisions and hold leaders accountable," Chatterjee said.
He said the high point of his chairmanship that rises above all others was "the opportunity to lead FERC through the COVID-19 pandemic."
It is not yet clear who will take the helm at FERC under Biden, but one possibility is Glick.
Glick looks ahead
During the open meeting, Glick offered a preview of the tack he may take if tapped to helm the agency. Glick has been a harsh critic of FERC's efforts under a Republican majority to impose the equivalent of minimum offer price rules (MOPR) to counteract eastern states' clean energy subsidies in the nation's three regional transmission organizations and independent system operators with mandatory capacity markets.
"It's abundantly clear that the commission's approach MOPR'ing certain state-supported resources in the three eastern RTOs is just not sustainable," Glick said. Noting that five out of six governors in the ISO-NE's footprint have called for substantial changes to the grid operator's market rules, Glick argued that FERC "needs to turn its attention towards what comes next instead of trying to defend the indefensible."
"Imagine how much better off we'd be if all this time, money and energy spent on fighting over MOPRs had been devoted to developing a truly durable construct that accommodates state public policies while ensuring that RTO and ISO markets procure the services needed to keep the lights on," Glick said.
Danly is currently slated to lead two more open meetings as chairman, including one scheduled for Jan. 19, the day before the presidential inauguration.