By Rich Heidorn Jr.
PJM officials and stakeholders feted Griffiths on Monday at the annual meeting between the PJM Board of Managers, environmental groups and state consumer advocates. Griffiths, who became CAPS’ first executive director in September 2013, is being replaced by Greg Poulos, former director of regulatory affairs for demand response provider EnerNOC. (See CAPS Hires EnerNOC Alum as Executive Director.)
PJM CEO Andy Ott called Griffiths “a tremendous friend for many years.”
“Thank you very much for all you’ve done to bring CAPS to a level that it’s at,” he said. “The fact that there’s 22 [consumer advocates] here discussing these issues is a tremendous message of engagement. The desired outcome of these discussions is to make sure we understand each other, to communicate with each other and we move forward in a cooperative way.”
Griffiths responded with praise for the PJM stakeholder process. “The collegiality — even for people that I almost always disagree with — is fantastic,” he said. “I have never seen this anywhere else.”
Griffiths started his career in 1979 at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, developing metrics for utilities’ consumer services performance. He began specializing in electricity after restructuring in 1997, with several stints in private industry before returning to state government in 2000 as an assistant under then-Consumer Advocate Sonny Popowsky, a vacancy created when predecessor Denise Foster joined PJM. He retired from state government at the end of the Ed Rendell administration in 2010 as a deputy secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Energy and Technology Deployment.
He later served as DR provider Comverge’s delegate to the PJM stakeholder process. He was in that role when the newly formed CAPS selected him as its first executive director, using proceeds from Constellation Energy’s settlement with FERC in a market manipulation case. (See Consumer Advocates Name Director.)
Griffiths said the idea for CAPS began with conversations among him, Popowsky, West Virginia Public Advocate Jackie Roberts and Maryland Senior Assistant People’s Counsel Bill Fields.
CAPS’ biggest accomplishment during his tenure was helping state consumer advocates become engaged in PJM’s stakeholder process, he said in an interview at the Annual Meeting on May 15. “The first purpose was to make them understanding enough so that they could make decisions, so that they could vote in the stakeholder process … and be able to make thoughtful filings as opposed to ‘just say no’ filings.”
The engagement has been illustrated in the recent Capacity Construct/Public Policy Senior Task Force (CCPPSTF), he said.
“We had a one-hour meeting today to discuss it. We’ve probably had eight hours of phone calls … over the past several months to talk about it,” he said. “The CAPS members — the state consumer advocates — really do have a drive to understand the policy now and be part of creating, rather than reacting to it.”
The Constellation money would have run out next year, so PJM’s decision to provide permanent funding — via a bill surcharge similar to that used to fund the state regulators’ Organization of PJM States Inc. — was crucial to its future.
FERC approved an initial annual budget of $450,000 in 2016. In addition to paying for the executive director, the funding also is used to cover advocates’ travel to PJM meetings. (See FERC Approves PJM Funding of Consumer Advocates.)
“We have ongoing funding and we’ve got [an] executive director who is outstanding: creative, ambitious, excellent in outreach and coalition building … and articulate,” Griffiths said. “And so I think that CAPS will be better after me. I think I’m leaving at the right time.”
Griffiths said the 13 states (and D.C.) in CAPS understand the impact of PJM on their customers’ electric bills.
“They wouldn’t be here if their [state] offices didn’t make a decision to dedicate resources to the PJM process. I think everybody understands now just how important that is. In a competitive state like Pennsylvania, you might have 70% of your electric bill that comes through the PJM process. You cannot mitigate that by doing things at the state level, no matter how much you want to. And even in … [vertically integrated] West Virginia, 50% of their process is coming through the PJM process.”
“Pennsylvania uses … about 138 million MWh. [Actually more than 146 million MWh in 2015, according to the PUC.] And if the pricing is [increased] by a buck, that’s a $138 million hit to the Pennsylvania economy. … There are Market Monitors out there who think a few bucks here or there is like, ‘Okay, that’s fine.’
“It’s not fine,” Griffiths continued. “Consumers are hurt even by small pricing errors, and so it’s important for [Independent Market Monitor] Joe Bowring to be able to continue to do his job and PJM to be vigilant about making sure that the prices are right. There’s people [on the supply side] who have a natural incentive — they have a fiduciary responsibility — to make prices go up.”
Asked what advice he had given Poulos, Griffiths responded: “There’s all these pieces [that] work together. You cannot just [focus on] the markets because it seems like that’s where [the money] is. If you have a [load] forecast that’s one level and it could be 2.5% less — as we found over the last couple of years as PJM changed its forecasting process —that’s 2.5% of a whole lot of money. You can’t neglect any of this stuff because the scale is so huge and it interacts. Energy market performance affects capacity, offer caps. And so it just keeps rolling along.”
Poulos, who previously worked as an assistant in the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, has been working for CAPS under Griffiths since the OPSI annual meeting in April. So is he ready to go it alone?
“Absolutely not,” he laughed during an interview Wednesday, describing the last several weeks of Griffiths’ tutelage as “drinking from a firehose.”
“But I’m in a really good position. He was so helpful with all the information. He has such a wealth of knowledge, even about the stakeholder process.”
“He was a true champion for consumers. That is very clear. He’s done a great job of advocating on behalf of the advocates and consumers. At the same time, he was a true friend and colleague to all [in the stakeholder process],” Poulos continued. He taught “the value of being a part of the community and making sure you participate and get to know everybody.”
On some issues, such as the cost and transparency of transmission expansion projects, CAPS is likely to have a unified position. But Poulos said there are times when his role will be less a lobbyist than a facilitator, providing information for individual state advocates.
In preparing for FERC’s May 1-2 technical conference on tensions between state actions and wholesale markets, “it was very clear that we at CAPS did not have a position and could not have a position,” he said. Some advocates “wanted to [accommodate] state actions and others want a true market where state actions aren’t considered.”
Off to Europe
Griffiths left the annual meeting early Tuesday to begin a month-long trip to Austria, Switzerland and Italy with his wife, Maureen Mulligan, a retired solar energy and energy-efficiency activist.
He hasn’t closed the door to returning to the industry in some fashion but has no plans. “I cannot come back here and work for anybody on the supply side … because their interests are so different than [consumers] and I think people … would think I was being hypocritical,” he said.
“I talked to folks a little bit about [doing] things outside PJM but I’m not dying to travel. I’ve done a lot of travel in my years. You know, after a while there’s no glory in travel. It’s just the torture you go through to do your job.”