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News outlet implores FERC to open New England Power Pool meetings to the press

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News outlet implores FERC to open New England Power Pool meetings to the press

The New England Power Pool is taking steps to ensure that journalists are excluded from its stakeholder meetings, but the trade publication that spurred those efforts is doing its best to keep that from happening.

NEPOOL defends its proposal to bar news reporters from membership by asserting that it is a private entity entitled to hold its meetings away from the public eye, RTO Insider told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in recent filings. But NEPOOL "has privileged status as the dominant provider of stakeholder input to [the ISO New England] and ultimately to the commission," and its meetings therefore should be open to public scrutiny just like the stakeholder proceedings of the six other regional grid operators operating across the nation, according to the trade publication.

In New England, "the future of an electric market involving millions of consumers and billions of consumer dollars is being 'shaped' by entities operating in secret," RTO Insider said.

The dispute stems from a recent request (FERC docket ER18-2208) for FERC's permission to amend the NEPOOL agreement to exclude from membership any individual who is employed by or represents a news outlet or serves "any role directly connected with news collection and reporting." NEPOOL in its Aug. 13 filing said extending membership to news reporters would have a negative impact on its ability to "foster candid discussions and negotiations in its stakeholder meetings."

NEPOOL explained that its proposal was prompted by a journalist's request to become a member of the NEPOOL participants committee "so that he could attend and report on discussions occurring within NEPOOL meetings." The participants committee serves as the primary stakeholder advisory body to the ISO-NE, the region's electric grid operator.

RTO Insider subsequently confirmed that the journalist at issue was one of its employees who is a residential electricity consumer in Vermont and, as such, sought to become a member of NEPOOL as a "governance only end user participant."

Responding to NEPOOL's proposal, RTO Insider on Sept. 5 recalled that it filed a complaint (FERC docket EL18-196) in late August asking FERC to find that NEPOOL's "unique" ban of the press from stakeholder meetings is "unlawful, unjust and unreasonable, unduly discriminatory and contrary to the public interest."

"Conversely, if NEPOOL can justify its press ban as a 'private' entity desiring secrecy it should be treated as a private entity," RTO Insider said. "Its special powers and privileges should be transferred to an open stakeholder process within ISO-NE, and the ISO-NE resources devoted to NEPOOL (currently $2.6 million annually) should be devoted to an open stakeholder process within ISO-NE."

Among the special powers and privileges NEPOOL enjoys is its right to submit filings to FERC under the "jump-ball" provision of the NEPOOL/ISO-NE participants agreement, which specifies that FERC will decide between market rule changes proposed by the grid operator and any alternative proposals approved by 60% or more of NEPOOL's membership.

"This is an extraordinary right because it negates the right an RTO/ISO would otherwise have for its ... filing to be accepted if just and reasonable (or not unjust and unreasonable), rather than having to demonstrate that its filing is superior to alternatives," RTO Insider said.

NEPOOL also plays a significant role in the ISO-NE's transmission planning process, the trade publication continued, as the grid operator's planning advisory committee is required under its tariff to consult with NEPOOL's reliability committee "on virtually every aspect of transmission planning."

"Given NEPOOL's hardwired roles in transmission planning, its secret meetings taint the transmission planning process such that ISO-NE/NEPOOL cannot possibly provide the openness and transparency" required by FERC's Order 890, a landmark final rule aimed at preventing undue discrimination and preference in transmission service, RTO Insider said.

No other regional transmission organization or independent system operator has an outside entity that yields such power, according to RTO Insider. "NEPOOL is well aware of this uniqueness but nowhere in its 15-page transmittal letter in support of formalizing its press ban does it attempt to explain why ISO-NE/NEPOOL are fundamentally different from all the other RTO/ISOs," RTO Insider said. "Nowhere does NEPOOL explain why secrecy is critical for it and it alone."

Finally, among other things, RTO Insider complained that the press ban is being applied in a discriminatory manner. While NEPOOL opposes granting a membership to that publication's employee, it seems to have no issue with others regularly reporting on events that occur during NEPOOL meetings, RTO Insider said.