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House passes bills to aid FERC rate challenges, advanced nuclear development

The U.S. House of Representatives again passed a bill allowing power rate changes resulting from FERC inaction to be challenged at the commission and in court, as well as legislation to aid advanced nuclear energy development.

The two bills passed unanimously by voice vote and were part of a package of 11 bills from the House Energy and Commerce Committee the House advanced Jan. 23.

H.R. 587, called the Fair Ratepayer Accountability, Transparency and Efficiency Standards Act, or the Fair RATES Act, would amend the Federal Power Act so that any inaction by FERC that allows a rate change to take effect would be considered a final order from the commission, thereby allowing for rehearing and court review. The bill, which was passed by the House in the previous session of Congress but did not go up for a U.S. Senate vote, was introduced by Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass.

Kennedy's home state was affected by the results of a controversial ISO New England Inc. capacity auction for the 2017-2018 commitment period. Critics of the auction said Energy Capital Partners LLC announced the closure of its Brayton Point coal-fired plant in Massachusetts shortly after purchasing the facility in order to push up capacity prices for the company's other plants. FERC was divided on the results of the auction, meaning the commission did not issue a final order that could be challenged and the resulting rates went into effect by operation of law.

The House on Jan. 23 also passed H.R. 590, or the Advanced Nuclear Technology Development Act. The bipartisan bill would require the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop a framework to approve advanced nuclear energy technologies and collaborate with the U.S. Department of Energy, where needed, on technical expertise, computer modeling and simulation, and facility usage. As part of its framework for approving advanced reactor designs, the NRC must include a plan for recovering from any milestone delays in the review of design certification applications.

"Regulatory ambiguity and uncertainty threaten the continued development of this source of clean, reliable power," said Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, who coauthored H.R. 590 with Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif. "Providing guidance and a licensing framework for the nuclear industry will aid the efforts of the private sector to implement cutting-edge technology that is safe and effective."

As with the Fair RATES Act, the advanced nuclear development bill passed the House in 2016 but ran up against time constraints in the Senate leading up to the elections in November of that year. But supporters of both bills are hopeful they will become law this time around.

"I'm hopeful the Senate takes swift action on these commonsense bills," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said.