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CERAWeek: FERC chairman gets the message 'Don't mess with Texas' over push for project approvals


Chatterjee says he's confident commission can get more done

Gas and power themes tackled in address to global energy leaders

Houston — Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee acknowledged Thursday the need to work harder to hasten approvals of US LNG export terminal projects, even with a FERC vacancy that some have said might have to be filled to break any partisan logjams.

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The comments during a briefing with reporters at the CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference in Houston reflect the pressure the commission faces from both the White House and the energy industry at large to give the US a shot at achieving its market growth goals and meeting the global demand expected next decade.

An agreement on greenhouse gas considerations reached last month allowed the commission to approve by a 3-1 vote Venture Global LNG's Calcasieu Pass project, the first such permit approval in two years. The decision gave developers of other second wave projects hope they might soon be next. With the slot for a fifth member on the commission still to be filled, such optimism has been questioned.

"I'm confident the current complement of us, the four of us, can get things done," Chatterjee said. He added that he considers the notion "that we are split and divided" to be unfair.

Differences at the commission over GHG considerations have tended to divide along party lines, although Democratic Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur has more frequently voted with Republicans to back projects, in spite of such objections, than has her Democratic colleague, Rich Glick. Most orders at the commission are approved unanimously.

On the power front, Chatterjee said he could not comment about PG&E Corp. and its utility subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric's bankruptcy case or the adversary proceedings in which PG&E has asked the bankruptcy court to issue an injunction to keep FERC out of the case.

Chatterjee said he felt it was important that FERC asserted its jurisdiction over long-term power supply contracts that PG&E may decide to terminate.

In court documents, FERC described the broad scope of its statutory jurisdiction over "rates, terms and conditions of wholesale electricity sales" and said it has exclusive authority to determine the reasonableness of those rates.

The adverse proceeding is ongoing in San Francisco, with a decision expected April 10. A report Thursday by credit ratings agency S&P Global Ratings suggested that suppliers are becoming concerned that Pacific Gas and Electric will soon seek to reject supply contracts.

Chatterjee also addressed questions about the resiliency of the US grid. He noted that resiliency and stability are now the subject of an ongoing FERC analysis of the short-term and long-term threat to the grid.

"This is a really complex undertaking," Chatterjee said, "and there is urgency around it."


Chatterjee declined to comment on whether there is a timetable for the analysis completion. He also declined to comment on when the commission will rule on capacity market reforms proposed by PJM, or on whether the largest US grid operator's upcoming August auction should be delayed further.

Chatterjee did address head-on the perceived dysfunction in Washington and the commission's effort to be an exception, especially when it comes to LNG project approvals.

"We at the commission have to do our part to make sure we are evaluating the applications before us in an expeditions and efficient manner," he said to the conference attendees.

He said balancing interests is a "really vexing challenge," especially with the Houston oil and gas hub lobbying hard.

"It's a tough one for me personally, I'm a conservative," Chatterjee said. "Ever since I got off the plane, I keep hearing people tell me, 'Don't mess with Texas.' I get it."

-- Harry Weber and Jeffrey Ryser,

-- Edited by Jennifer Pedrick,