Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Wood, Brownell: Unaware of Press Ban When OK’d NEPOOL

FERC also Unaware When OK’d Order 719

By Rich Heidorn Jr.

WASHINGTON — The FERC commissioners who approved the New England Power Pool as ISO-NE’s stakeholder body in 2004 were unaware at the time that NEPOOL barred the public and press from its meetings.

Former FERC chair Pat Wood | © RTO Insider

Former FERC Chairman Pat Wood III and former Commissioner Nora Mead Brownell said in interviews they would have insisted on allowing press access had they known of the ban when they approved ISO-NE as an RTO in March 2004 (RT04-2, ER04-116, et al.).

NEPOOL FERC Pat Wood press ban

Former FERC commissioner Joseph Kelliher | © RTO Insider

Former Commissioner Joseph T. Kelliher, the third vote on the order, declined to comment but did not dispute Wood’s and Brownell’s accounts. Former Commissioner Suedeen Kelly did not take part in the order.

FERC commissioners also were unaware of the ban in 2008 when they approved Order 719 (RM07-19, AD07-7), according to former Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. The order set requirements for the responsiveness of RTOs and ISOs “to their customers and other stakeholders, and ultimately to the consumers who benefit from and pay for electricity services.”

“I do not recall this ever coming up when I was at FERC, and I do not remember the issue in 719,” Wellinghoff said via email. “Stakeholder meetings should absolutely be open to all, including the press.”

The other former commissioners who joined Wellinghoff and then-Chairman Kelliher in voting on Order 719 — Kelly, Marc Spitzer and Philip Moeller — did not respond to requests for comment last week.

New England is the only one of seven U.S. regions served by RTOs or ISOs where the press and public are prohibited from attending stakeholder meetings.

On Aug. 31, RTO Insider filed a complaint asking FERC to overturn NEPOOL’s press ban or terminate the group’s role and direct ISO-NE to adopt an open stakeholder process like those used by other RTOs. The Section 206 complaint (EL18-196) came two weeks after NEPOOL submitted a proposal to FERC seeking to codify an unwritten policy of banning news reporters and the public from attending the group’s stakeholder meetings. (See RTO Insider Seeks Repeal of NEPOOL Press Ban.)

Media Family

Wood, attending an industry conference in D.C. on Wednesday, told RTO Insider that it was inconceivable that he and Brownell would have approved NEPOOL’s press ban. Brownell’s family owned the Erie Times-News in Pennsylvania until 2015.

NEPOOL FERC Pat Wood press ban

Former FERC commissioner Nora Mead Brownell | © RTO Insider

“If Nora Brownell signed off on that — her being from a media family — I’m sure it did not come up,” Wood said. “Nora would be kind of the canary in the mine on anything [dealing with media]. Any time that you came up with transparency stuff, she kind of had my proxy.”

Brownell, now a board member of National Grid, confirmed Wood’s recollection in a phone interview.

“Pat is absolutely right,” Brownell said. “I did not know and would never have approved. Shame on me if it was out in the open, but it couldn’t have been obvious. I remember expressing concerns over SPP’s stakeholder process.

“I just can’t imagine why the meetings have to be closed,” she continued. “I think it is critically important for people to have confidence in the outcome of what is being recommended and what the RTO/ISO ultimately adopts. … If the consumer is paying a bill [for RTO actions], as they are, directly or indirectly, they have a right to have access to the process.”

Wood said ensuring stakeholder meetings are open to the public and press is essential. “The very first step of transparency is doing the sunshine,” he said. “You know, most things done in the dark do start to smell.”

Two Dockets

RTO Insider also filed its complaint as a protest in the docket NEPOOL opened in August (ER18-2208). Comments in the NEPOOL docket are due Sept. 14.

The commission set a Sept. 20 deadline for comments in the docket opened by RTO Insider. NEPOOL on Thursday requested that deadline be extended seven business days to Oct. 1 “to align the timing of any appropriate NEPOOL response to pleadings submitted on these same issues in Docket No. ER18-2208.” RTO Insider responded that it did not oppose the request.

The 2004 order approved by the three commissioners, all Republicans, includes three references to “transparency” but no mention of NEPOOL’s then unwritten press ban. It noted, for example, the promise of ISO-NE and the New England transmission owners that the revised ISO-NE board procedures “would promote greater transparency by requiring board agendas to be posted, the opportunity for stakeholders to provide written input on agenda items, and for reports on board meeting actions, and proposed revisions to market rules or other tariff provisions.”

NEPOOL moved to codify its unwritten ban on press and public attendance at stakeholder meetings after RTO Insider reporter Michael Kuser, who lives in Vermont, applied for membership in NEPOOL’s Participants Committee as an end-user customer in March. NEPOOL’s proposed amendments to the NEPOOL Agreement would add a definition of “press” and bar anyone working as a journalist from becoming a NEPOOL member or alternate for a participant.