Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Public Interest Groups Cry Foul over Technical Conference, RTO Transparency

By Rich Heidorn Jr.

Three public interest groups say they were shut out of last week’s FERC technical conference on tensions between state energy policies and wholesale markets (AD17-11) and called on the commission to improve the transparency of RTOs.

In a letter to the commission, Public Citizen, the Public Utility Law Project of New York and the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project complained that the technical conference did not include any public interest consumer advocates, although Public Citizen had submitted an application to speak.

Although the Consumer Advocates of PJM States testified on one PJM panel, “neither government nor public interest consumer advocates” were included on any of the ISO-NE or NYISO panels, the letter said. “FERC’s failure to include any public interest consumer advocates decidedly leaves one of the most important stakeholders in the outcome with no voice,” they wrote.

The groups also said they were concerned that the Trump administration will appoint new FERC commissioners who subscribe to a “new, radical administration baseload electricity policy” as articulated by Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s memorandum announcing a study of policies affecting baseload power. (See related story, Exelon Encouraged by Perry’s Memo, Thinks ZECs Will Hold Up.)

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Tyson Slocum, Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, at an earlier FERC Hearing | © RTO Insider

“While the Department of Energy actually lacks clear authority to implement the sweeping proposals suggested in the memo, FERC likely does have the power to do so,” the groups said.

FERC has lacked a quorum since February. The five-member commission has three open seats, and Commissioner Colette Honorable announced last month she will not seek reappointment when her term expires in June.

The groups also called on FERC to improve RTO governance and transparency, criticizing FERC’s December order dismissing Public Citizen’s complaint that it was denied a right to fully participate in PJM. The order said that government consumer advocate offices, which have the right to vote, can represent Public Citizen’s interests (ER17-249). “That is akin to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency representing the views of the Sierra Club,” they wrote.

“Although some describe the RTOs as ‘quasi-public’ institutions, given the power FERC has bestowed upon them, there is nothing public about them. All of the FERC-jurisdictional RTOs … are private, membership corporations. None are subject to federal or state transparency or other governance requirements imposed on government institutions, such as open meeting laws or federal/state freedom of information act statutes.”

The groups said individuals that are not members of the New England Power Pool can only attend stakeholder meetings through a “sponsorship” from an existing member. “But even after being ‘sponsored,’ the decision to approve participation is made by the chair of the Participants Committee — a position currently held by a for-profit power company executive. Such a privatized model of controlling civil engagement is inappropriate.”

The letter also renewed the March 2016 request by Public Citizen and more than two dozen environmental and public interest groups that FERC provide public funding for interventions before the agency, as it says is required by the 1978 Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (RM16-9). (See Citizens Groups Seek Public Funding for FERC Interventions.)

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