By Rich Heidorn Jr.
FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said last week he will seek an interim “lifeboat” to ensure the survival of struggling coal and nuclear plants while the commission ponders long-term rule changes.
He laid out his plans in remarks at an industry conference and in an interview Thursday on Bloomberg television.
Chatterjee has said the commission will take action by Dec. 11 on Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s call for “full recovery” of coal and nuclear plants’ costs in RTOs with energy and capacity markets, including PJM, ISO-NE and NYISO. More than 700 comments were filed in response to the Department of Energy’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (RM18-1). (See NOPR Backers, Foes Seek Last Word at Comment Deadline.)
In a meeting with reporters last month, Chatterjee said FERC’s options include initiating its own rulemaking, convening a technical conference or issuing a final rule based on DOE’s NOPR.
Now, facing legal and political obstacles to winning approval of a final rule, Chatterjee said he is seeking a short-term plan to rescue as many plants as possible while the commission does additional fact-finding.
“What I don’t want to have is plants shut down while we’re doing this longer-term analysis, so we need an interim step to keep them afloat,” Chatterjee told the S&P Global Platts Energy Podium in D.C. “I don’t know that we can get everybody in the lifeboat,” he added.
“My approach is going to be one of no regrets,” he said in the Bloomberg interview. “The worst-case scenario would be we do the long-term analysis, we figure out we actually did need these plants, but they’re gone. They’re offline and we can’t get them back.”
He said his plan will not alter RTO dispatch practices or distort markets.
Chatterjee also disclosed he had met with FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones “to really kick the tires on what they proposed [in their comments on the DOE NOPR] and challenge them on some of what they had put forward.” FERC’s ex parte rules, which bar commissioners from private discussions with parties in “case-specific, contested proceedings,” do not apply to rulemakings, according to a 2010 presentation by FERC Associate General Counsel Lawrence R. Greenfield (18 CFR 385.2201(a), (b), (c)(1)(ii)).
FirstEnergy proposed that the commission require RTOs and ISOs adopt a pro forma Resiliency Support Resource (RSR) tariff agreeing to make monthly payments to “fuel-secure, resilient generators.” The payments would be “equal to its full costs of operation and service” and a “and a fair return on equity,” minus its revenues for capacity, energy and ancillary services.
Chatterjee, a native of coal state Kentucky and a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has made no secret of his desire to aid coal generators. Commissioners Robert Powelson, a Republican, and Cheryl LaFleur, a Democrat, have reacted more warily to the Perry proposal, expressing concern it could damage wholesale markets.
Republican Kevin McIntyre and Democrat Richard Glick, who were confirmed to FERC by the Senate on Nov. 2, are awaiting their swearing-in and have not commented publicly on the proposal. Chatterjee told Bloomberg that he had not discussed the NOPR or his interim proposal with McIntyre, who will replace him as chairman.
“Kevin is somebody with a lot of expertise. He’s a smart, thoughtful guy. … And I hope that he will ultimately be persuaded to follow the course that I’ve laid out,” Chatterjee said.
Perry’s Sept. 28 proposal requested that FERC issue a final rule within 60 days. But even if Chatterjee won the two additional votes he needs to approve a final rule in December, it could be vulnerable to court challenges on the grounds that it was rushed through without sufficient notice to the public and proper evaluation by the commission.