Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioners shot down a number of agenda items proposed by Chair James Danly on Tuesday in what stakeholders called an abnormal meeting.
The meeting marked Danly's last as head of FERC, and led to the rejection of several gas infrastructure projects, the dismissal of a proposal that would have expanded the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) in the New York Independent System Operator's (NYISO) territory, and the partial rejection of a request for rehearing clarification on the MOPR expansion in the PJM Interconnection. "This meeting is not normal," said Gillian Giannetti, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council's Sustainable FERC Project, in a tweet. "You don't put orders on the Sunshine notice that will fail."
Tuesday's meeting was also the first for Commissioner Mark Christie, the former chairman of the Virginia State Corporation Commission, who emphasized his commitment to ensuring states got a voice at the table, particularly when it comes to conflicts between state policies and grid operator policies.
FERC's first open meeting of 2021 gave Commissioner Neil Chatterjee the opportunity to continue cementing his place as a swing vote between Democratic appointees Allison Clements and Richard Glick and the commission's Republican majority.
Biden is expected to name a new chair by the end of the month, presumably either Glick or Clements, and their concurrences with Chatterjee on Tuesday may indicate where the commissioners can find common ground in the months before Chatterjee's June 30 departure.
Chatterjee indicated one area where he'd be willing to compromise — on considering greenhouse gas emissions when mulling approval of gas facilities.
"The Commission has a unique opportunity now to make serious, sustainable progress on some of the difficult matters we are facing," he said. "Specifically, I'm eagerly anticipating the chance to work with my colleagues to forge compromises on issues like how the commission handles greenhouse gases when it evaluates certificates. I'm confident we'll be able to craft a path forward."
Chatterjee, Clements and Glick voted against multiple gas infrastructure draft orders, including items on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Sabal Trail Transmission, Algonquin Gas Transmission, the Maritimes and Northeast Transmission, among others.
Glick, Chatterjee and Clements argued these orders did not take into account environmental justice issues and landowner concerns sufficiently. Glick called out what he sees as a broader failure of the commission to take into account how fossil fuel facilities might impact low-income communities sited near the projects.
"I've been at the commission for three years, and I've seen little in the way of orders that do more than give lip service to environmental justice. That needs to change," he said.
Clements also supported Glick's broader call for pipeline certification reform.
"The lack of a durable pipeline certification policy has resulted in a commission agenda like the one we see today, filled with pipeline by pipeline battles, legal vulnerabilities, significant … inefficiencies, and unsatisfied parties on all sides of the issue," she said. "Commissioner Glick and his advisors have done a tremendous job over the past three years continuing to call out insufficiencies in the Commission's certification process, and the legal vulnerabilities that decisions based on these insufficiencies create."
FERC's monthly agenda is put together by the chair, and typically the chair brings agenda items to the meeting that he or she has the votes to pass. Danly explained that although he knew many of the gas items in particular would be shot down, he believed the topics should at least be engaged in.
"The reason why I brought these up for a vote, knowing full well that there would be great likelihood that they would be voted down, is because ... what I insisted was that there be an order that specifically addresses the comments" filed on the items, he said, adding he believed FERC's "fidelity to legal regimes ... required me to offer these for vote."
FERC also eliminated a proposal that would have expanded the MOPR within NYISO, a request filed by gas generators in the region who specifically asked the commission to replicate its MOPR order in the PJM. Chatterjee, who led the commission during the PJM MOPR expansion and has been a consistent proponent of the move, said Tuesday that he does not believe that order should be replicated across multiple grid operator territories.
"I have concerns about the potential market distorting effects of state policies that favor certain resources in a way that causes price suppression in capacity markets," he said. "But that doesn't mean the commission should require every RTO with a capacity market to implement a minimum offer rule substantially similar to the MOPR we required in PJM," noting that NYISO, unlike PJM, did not ask for such an order.
Finally, the commission rejected, in part, approval of PJM's compliance filing on the MOPR expansion. Glick in October raised concerns over a footnote that suggests New Jersey's default service auction may be considered a state subsidy, and Chatterjee on Tuesday echoed those concerns.
"Upon careful consideration of the issues raised on rehearing, I do not support the order offered for a vote today, because it neither squarely addresses nor eradicates the confusion and conflict created by the footnote," Chatterjee said. "Instead, the order doubles down on it. And I cannot support such a path."
Christie, during his first open meeting, emphasized his desire to better include state input on issues related to them. Under Chatterjee, the commission received backlash from PJM states in particular that accused the commission of undermining their clean energy policies by implementing the MOPR expansion. State regulators became further frustrated when the commission did not include them in a fall carbon pricing conference.
"I hope that in the months ahead, this commission will examine comprehensively the issues that are related to state public policies and RTO markets, and examine it in a forum in which all interested entities, including the states, of course, can voice their views," said Christie.
FERC's January meeting was pushed up two days — to the day before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration — in October under then-Chairman Chatterjee.