Federal regulators on Friday announced details of a much-anticipated technical conference on carbon pricing, following a request from a broad group of renewable energy, gas and power groups for the commission to look at the issue more closely, but some stakeholders expressed disappointment with the lineup, decrying a lack of representation from renewable energy and consumer advocates, as well as lack of gender diversity.
Of the 30 panelists lined up for the technical conference to be hosted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, seven represent grid operators or their market monitors and seven represent energy companies, but none represent renewable energy or consumer interests, and only one represents state interests. Other speakers include academics, consultants, trade groups and law firms. Three of the speakers are women.
Critics of the lineup say leaving consumer advocates and states out of the discussion is a misstep — for one thing, it won't help mounting state and federal tensions over wholesale market policy, said Jeff Dennis, managing director and general counsel for Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), one of the stakeholders that requested FERC convene the discussion.
Stakeholder feedback has been largely supportive of the carbon pricing conference in comments filed with FERC. But some groups later knocked the commission for neglecting to include key stakeholders that are shaping the debate in the real world.
It's "a missed opportunity for FERC to lead a full and honest discussion about moving wholesale markets toward the decarbonized electricity system policymakers, customers, and the public are increasingly demanding," said Dennis in an email.
"It also does nothing to get beyond the federal-state schism caused by FERC's MOPR rulings," he said. "[T]his conference could have been the first in a series of discussions of how this and other state policies can be accommodated and facilitated in wholesale markets, rather than simply ‘mitigated,' which is what FERC is trying to do with policies like MOPR."
A wide array of groups has been advocating for FERC to take a closer look at carbon pricing. The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) has been considering a carbon pricing mechanism since 2018, and other stakeholders including the Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA), Natural Gas Supply Association, AEE, and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) in April wrote to FERC requesting that it look more closely at the benefits of pricing carbon across wholesale electricity markets.
FERC Chair Neil Chatterjee noted the conference was will be a "historic" event "exploring an issue that the Commission has never before examined."
"The conference will feature a broad array of high-level panelists, and we look forward to hearing their viewpoints, and the viewpoints of all stakeholders, on this matter," he said in an email. "As with all of our technical conferences, we would encourage the public to follow along with the livestream and participate in the comment period following the conference."
EPSA members including NRG, Vistra and Calpine are represented at the conference, and the trade association's President and CEO Todd Snitchler said they "look forward to working with all stakeholders to advance this important conversation both before FERC and in other arenas."
"We are proud to be part of the diverse Coalition that called for the conference, which includes a wide array of stakeholders essential to moving the discussion forward. … FERC's conference will shed important light on this issue, and we hope it will lead to further progress and many additional opportunities for discussion involving all relevant parties," he said in an email.
AWEA joined AEE in protesting its exclusion from the conference.
"While we are pleased that FERC has chosen to hold such a dialogue, the Commission has surprisingly selected only panelists from a very narrow subset of those who will be impacted by FERC's future actions on this critical issue," Gene Grace, AWEA general counsel said in an email. Instead, the conference only seems to represent the "slim interests" of the chosen panelists, Grace said.
"As the conference comes at a pivotal moment with respect to reconciling markets and state policies related to reducing carbon emissions, we urge FERC to supplement the agenda for the conference and add voices who can speak to critical interests in this dialogue," said Grace. "This will help FERC develop a broader record and better inform its decision-making on potential next steps related to this issue."
Consumer advocates were another notable omission, said stakeholders. A coalition of consumer advocates in public comments on the carbon pricing docket specifically called on FERC to include consumer advocates on the panel, as did Public Citizen's Energy Program Director Tyson Slocum.
"The word 'consumer' never appears once in the ... conference agenda," he said. "Unless some of the attorneys ... represent industrial/commercial consumers, I don't see a single interest representing the folks that will pay a carbon tax. Yet there are multiple speaking roles for energy traders."
It's "really a missed opportunity" to not include states and others voices, said Casey Roberts, a staff attorney with the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program. Further, it's "shocking" to only include three women out of that many speakers, she said, especially considering there is no shortage of female experts on this topic. It could be that some women just weren't available, but "it doesn't look like they made much of an effort," she added.
FERC staff specifically called for diversity in its email to stakeholders calling for nominees, though it noted the Commission would ultimately decide who would participate.
"FERC staff encourages you to consider diversity and inclusion when considering candidates to nominate," the email read, citing a statement from Chair Chatterjee. "This commitment also extends to promoting diversity and inclusion across the energy industry. Diversity in voices and perspectives enriches discussions and therefore strengthens the Commission’s mission to ensure economically efficient, safe, reliable, and secure energy for consumers."
"Diversity of all types, including race, gender, and expertise, is something that the Commission needs to remain aware of and is an area where we can always strive to do better," FERC Commissioner Richard Glick said in an emailed statement. "That is particularly true when it comes to FERC's Technical Conferences, which would benefit from the promotion and inclusion of more diverse participants."