The following is a contributed article by John Norris, partner at SPPG, former commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and former president of the Organization of Midwest Independent System Operator States.
In his recent opinion piece criticizing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Guy Caruso fundamentally misunderstands the FERC actions he cites. In curtailing the wrong-headed Minimum Offer Price Rule and undertaking bona fide environmental reviews of pipelines, FERC is in fact fulfilling its responsibilities while respecting state authority and ensuring investments are in the public interest.
Operating under its mandate to ensure fair market access, the current FERC leadership is leveling the playing field to allow solar and wind energy to compete in electricity markets. And it's undertaking the legally-mandated environmental reviews necessary before new pipeline projects are given the greenlight. These are just the kind of commonsense decisions FERC must make so that our energy infrastructure maintains reliability and protects the public interest.
FERC's decision this year to curtail the illegal Minimum Offer Price Rule is one example of protecting consumers and respecting state authority. These changes, which originated from the PJM market operator itself, protect consumers from paying inflated costs for capacity and having to buy capacity they do not need. The rules actually restore a level playing field and give states the lead in determining their own energy policies, which is key to our federal system of government and mandated by law.
A key concept here is "fuel neutrality." Fuel neutrality means that FERC doesn't intentionally favor one resource type over another based on arbitrary characteristics. Under both majority Democratic and majority Republican commissions, FERC has taken actions to reduce arbitrary market barriers to specific technology types. In fact, the Republican-led FERC under President Donald Trump took necessary action to remove barriers to both electricity storage and distributed energy, both of which are crucial to ensuring reliability during the energy transition. Those decisions do not favor those resources, but rather allow them fair market access, which promotes competition and provides significant consumer benefits.
FERC's review of the Northern Natural pipeline is another example of the commission operating under the law and in the public interest.
This is not some frivolous undertaking. Federal courts have previously overturned FERC orders on pipelines for failing to consider the impact of emissions from a pipeline project. It is not partisan for FERC to begin to follow court rulings. In fact, continuing to ignore the courts would put the natural gas industry in the untenable position of having to rely on FERC orders that expressly contravene court directives. All you need to do is look at the mess created in St. Louis by the Spire pipeline to see that serious reviews by FERC are necessary to avoid uncertainty, which threatens both customers and industry.
And it's important to recognize that FERC actually approved the Northern Natural pipeline certificate after its examination of the emission impacts associated with the pipeline. (It did so on a bipartisan basis.)
While those who want existing energy resources to maintain their advantages may argue otherwise, following the decisions of federal courts and ensuring that consumers don't pay twice for capacity are not evidence of partisan hackery or technology favoritism — they are what's required under the law. FERC should in fact accelerate its efforts to ferret out market designs and transmission planning shortcomings that benefit only incumbent generation interests and impose excessive rates on consumers.
Finally, FERC has a full five-member commission as of Friday. While this may make some advocates for particular energy sources uneasy, I have complete faith that this full panel will do just what I tried to do when I served on the commission: follow the law and ensure that energy markets are serving the public interest. That might be unpleasant for some in the energy industry, but that is what FERC is there to do.