Washington — Though there are likely to be some bumps on the road going forward, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Glick said Feb. 4 he was committed to working with state energy officials to ensure their voices are heard and that their policies are accommodated as much as possible.
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Tensions between FERC and the states have run high in recent years as the line between state and federal jurisdiction has been increasingly blurred by new technologies and innovations that straddle the wholesale and retail markets.
Those tensions seemingly hit a boiling point with FERC's imposition of capacity market reforms for the Eastern regional transmission organizations, which frustrated state clean energy policies and drove several states to threaten pulling their utilities from those RTOs and FERC-jurisdictional markets.
"What we need to do is accommodate these state clean energy programs as the statute tells us to, not block the way of those programs, and I'm hopeful that we're going to be doing that in the very near future," Glick said at the National Association of State Energy Officials' energy policy outlook conference.
Beyond changing direction on capacity markets, a move he said the RTOs appear to already be working on and that he hoped FERC could help steer, Glick said he wanted to facilitate more engagement with the states on energy policy across the board.
"We had pretty much a line drawn between wholesale markets and wholesale transactions, which are clearly subject to FERC regulation, and retail markets and distribution services, which are clearly subject to the state regulation. And that seemed to work well for a long time, but now markets are a little more complicated, primarily due to technological innovation," Glick said.
"We have a lot of behind-the-meter generation that the owners of those facilities not only want to provide power at the local level, but they also want to sell power into the wholesale markets."
Glick pointed to FERC's work on eliminating barriers to wholesale market entry for energy storage and distributed energy resources through Orders 841 and 2222, respectively. He said he understood that states had "a legitimate concern with trying to make sure their distribution systems are sufficiently reliable."
"As we continue this transition toward the clean energy future, we're going to certainly have some hiccups along the way in terms of trying to figure out what's the appropriate role for the states, what's the appropriate role for FERC in terms of how we regulate those particular transactions," Glick said.
"And I think it's going to be a little bit bumpy over the years, but I certainly have committed to the state [utility] regulators and ... [to the state energy officials] that I want to work with you. I want to make sure that FERC is accommodating as much as possible to the states and that we can work together on these issues."
Asked what he thought the states should do on their end to ensure effective engagement, Glick suggested they approach getting their voices heard from two fronts: through FERC directly and through the RTOs.
With FERC, making your voice known involves meeting with the commissioners, participating in proceedings by filing briefs in the dockets and taking part in conversations at technical conferences, be it as panelists or by submitting post-conference comments, Glick said.
The RTOs, Glick said, also "have a lot of sway in how the market rules are modified on a going-forward basis."
He acknowledged that "in some cases the states don't necessarily have an effective voice at the RTO," due to the unique and varied stakeholder processes among the RTOs.
"That's another area I think [FERC] needs to get involved in, the issue of RTO governance and making sure that everyone has fair representation in terms of governance," he said. "But I do encourage you to get very involved in the RTOs, especially if they start looking at alternatives for the current approaches to capacity markets around the country."
Office of Public Participation
State energy officials also questioned Glick on his vision and implementation plans for the long-stalled Office of Public Participation, on which Congress recently started a six-month clock for FERC to respond with plans for setting up the office first authorized in 1978.
Glick praised that step by Congress, and said FERC was moving forward on it "right away," with an internal meeting Feb. 5 to discuss how to proceed.
Referencing concerns of landowners about impacts of natural gas projects to their properties and health, Glick said "one thing that the Office of Public Participation could do is hopefully reach out to those affected landowners and other affected people in a community like that and give them a better awareness of what FERC is taking a look at and what some of the issues are."