- Newly-appointed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman James Danly is already making it clear his chairmanship, however short, will be different from that of Neil Chatterjee's.
- Last week, Danly, who replaced Chatterjee as chair of FERC earlier this month, cancelled the former chairman's scheduled roundtable discussion on electric vehicles, intended to examine EV charging's impact on transmission and wholesale markets. And on Monday, the chair announced through a FERC spokesperson that he would not be granting any press interviews or hosting any media briefings, a significant departure from previous commission chairs, according to former FERC staff, though some former and current FERC leaders defended Danly's decision.
- The chairman will host his first of at least three FERC meetings on Thursday. Though President-elect Joe Biden will likely appoint a different chair to the commission after his expected inauguration on Jan. 20, FERC, under Chatterjee's leadership in October, and approved by all three commissioners, changed the January meeting date to Tuesday, Jan. 19, instead of the usual third Thursday of the month.
Former FERC leadership and staff say media briefings play an essential role in how the public understands and digests long, complicated FERC orders, and the tradition dates back to the 1990s.
"While different Chair's have had different styles of engaging with the press, in my memory no Chairman has ever simply decided to not engage with the press or hold press conferences," Jeff Dennis, who spent over a decade in various roles at FERC and is now managing director and general counsel at Advanced Energy Economy, said in an email. "That is unfortunate, because discussions with the press and press conferences are important opportunities to explain what the Commission is doing, and to provide transparency to the public and regulated industry."
Billions of dollars in investments are regularly impacted by FERC decisions, Dennis added, and reduced transparecy could add unnecessary uncertainty to the markets, potentially even stalling investments and any related economic growth.
Danly's decision to step away from this custom is consistent with his views as an "adjudicator," FERC spokesperson Mary O'Driscoll said in an email to press announcing his decision Monday evening. Staff will still be available to ensure the press understands commission actions, she said. Some were critical of this view of the chairman's role.
"Public [servants] should explain their actions to the public," said Rob Gramlich, former advisor to Ex-FERC Chair Pat Wood III, particularly when the commission is issuing controversial rules like the minimum offer price rule expansion in the PJM Interconnection. Such a policy is inconsistent with the definition of an adjudicator, he said in a Tweet. Danly took office after the MOPR order was issued, but was on the commission when FERC voted in April to uphold the rule.
Others defended the new chair's decision.
"Chairman Danly is an attorney first. Much merit should be given for attention to detail and timely adjudication at The FERC," said former FERC Chair Curt Hébert Jr., who served in 2001 under President George W. Bush, in an email, adding he "respect[s]" Danly's decision.
"He clearly believes that his role as a utility regulator is to remain committed to existing law and not to be proactive in making new law," he said. "Press conferences can be helpful in marketing new ideas and policies. Perhaps, the Commission will benefit from allowing its orders to be the only mouthpiece for Commission actions."
Commissioner Richard Glick also defended the chairman. While, "personally" he believes those press conferences are "positive," he agreed the decision is up to Danly.
"For whatever reason, Chairman Danly doesn't feel comfortable doing that. And I think that's perfectly fine. And it's his decision," he said.
He also said that cancelling the roundtable discussion was not surprising, given the event was an unusual one for FERC to host, and was seemingly specific to Chatterjee.
"I'm not exactly sure what a chairman's roundtable is at FERC," said Glick, adding that while he did think the issue of EV charging stations' impacts and potential benefits to the grid was worth exploring, it seemed to be pretty specific to Chatterjee's agenda.
"It was a chairman Chatterjee event. It wasn't a typical technical conference. So I wouldn't take much into the fact that the Chairman Danly cancelled that event," he said.
Chatterjee announced the roundtable Oct. 30, a little over a month after FERC passed Order 2222, intended to remove barriers to distributed energy resources, including EV charging stations, in wholesale markets. Danly dissented on Order 2222.
"The dialogue on #electricvehicles isn't going away," said Chatterjee in a Nov. 10 Tweet, adding "With achievements like #Order2222, @FERC remains positioned to lead this market-focused conversation."
Dennis said AEE and its members, many of whom are involved heavily in EV development and the supply chain, are "disappointed" the commission will not be examining the issue.
But ultimately, Danly's three months as chair are unlikely to change very much, Glick said on Tuesday.
"You can't just do things overnight. And in this particular case, because of the election results, it appears that Chairman Danly will probably only be chairman for a couple of months. So I think it's a limited impact," he said.
Dennis agreed Danly was unlikely "to initiate or push forward major proactive policy initiatives."