Weber Questions Closed Meetings
By Amanda Durish Cook and Rich Heidorn Jr.
WASHINGTON — Texas Public Utility Commissioner Ken Anderson and other state regulators sharply questioned MISO officials Monday over its refusal to share with them raw cost data on transmission projects.
The exchange came during an in-person gathering of the Organization of MISO States Board of Directors at the winter session of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
OMS President and Indiana Utility Regulatory Commissioner Angela Weber, who has been calling for the organization to be more transparent itself, joined Anderson in pressing the RTO.
Anderson was already riled up when he arrived about 10 minutes late for the OMS meeting, having gotten lost looking for the conference room in an interior hallway of the Renaissance Hotel. He burst into the meeting, arms waving and complaining that the session had been scheduled in an unnumbered room. “There is a number outside,” Weber calmly informed him before going on with a discussion of an appeals court brief.
Minutes later, Anderson was steamed up again. Priti Patel, manager of customer and state and regulatory affairs for MISO North, was explaining that the RTO aggregates cost data from transmission developers before sharing the figures with state commissions because it considers them proprietary information.
“This is the problem in MISO … really? Proprietary?” Anderson asked testily.
Weber and other regulators at the Feb. 13 meeting also expressed dismay and called on MISO to provide more visibility on project costs.
The discussion ended when — at the urging of Iowa Utilities Board Member Libby Jacobs — Patel agreed to ask her superiors whether state regulators could sign confidentiality agreements to be privy to the more granular information as the RTO receives it from the developers.
Before FERC Order 1000, Patel had explained, MISO only required “minimal” project information such as facility statuses and in-service dates. New Tariff requirements dictate that developers provide the RTO with regulatory status, right-of-way status, permitting status, and design and engineering status. She said MISO can investigate causes of schedule delays and cost overruns greater than a 25% deviation from the budget.
While MISO’s monitoring could intersect with state regulators, the RTO is not infringing on states’ rights, Patel said, reminding OMS members that MISO does not determine rates. “We’re not there to judge the prudency of a cost,” she said.
MISO gives more weight to operations and maintenance planning than construction costs when evaluating project bids, Patel said. “What we’re evaluating is the actual infrastructure,” she said. Patel added that developers are keenly aware of costs, however, noting that 10 of the 11 bidders on MISO’s competitive Duff-Coleman project wrote a cost cap into their proposals.
OMS Executive Director Tanya Paslawski said ratemaking power ultimately lies with FERC, and both MISO and states “are limited in what they can do.”
Weber said state access to developer information varies from state to state, pointing out that commissioners in Indiana do not have access to cost information.
OMS Reviewing Own Transparency
OMS is also reassessing the appropriateness of using closed sessions during its meetings.
The topic came up in early February after some OMS members requested a closed session to discuss MISO and PJM’s FERC filing to implement targeted market efficiency projects (TMEPs). Weber said some members wanted a closed session to discuss different state viewpoints of the TMEP. She questioned whether OMS should use closed sessions for simple disagreements.
“I felt that … it’s a very broad interpretation of closed meetings. Once you get into that broad interpretation, there are going to be more and more closed meetings,” Weber said at a Feb. 2 OMS Executive Committee meeting.
OMS bylaws dictate that meetings be generally open because they are composed of public commissions.
Weber said the organization could clarify the language that permits closed sessions only when strategy on a FERC filing is discussed.
OMS should not enter closed session every time a legal issue comes up in discussion, she said. “Almost everything we do touches on legal” proceedings.