The West Virginia Public Service Commission and a Maryland state lawmaker are pressing for increased transparency at the PJM Interconnection, the largest U.S. grid operator.
The state regulators and legislator contend that confidential meetings held by PJM hurt their efforts to steer their states through a changing generation mix and to protect their ratepayers.
The Maryland House Economic Matters Committee considered a bill – HB 1186 – at a March 9 hearing that would require utilities in Maryland to file annual reports with the Maryland Public Service Commission on their votes at PJM, including at lower-level committee meetings, which are confidential. The utilities would have to explain how each vote was in the public interest.
The bill’s opponents include Exelon’s Baltimore Gas and Electric, Delmarva Power & Light and Potomac Electric Power Co.; FirstEnergy’s Potomac Edison; and the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.
“Requiring a utility to submit information on every vote taken at lower-level committee meetings would muddle the conversations there, is unnecessary, and would be a significant administrative burden and cost for no incremental benefit,” BGE said in a March 9 letter to the committee.
The bill could “stifle debate and innovation” at PJM when lower level committees are developing policies and hashing out recommendations to move forward, SMECO said, noting that votes at the PJM Members Committee, the senior most standing committee, are made publicly available.
“The transparencies currently in place for PJM’s voting protocols and voting records are there for a reason – so that there can be more frank communication at lower committee levels without fear of retribution,” Potomac Edison said.
Also, FERC has exclusive jurisdiction over transmission rates and operations, wholesale power markets and rates, the FirstEnergy subsidiary said.
Secret meetings hinder oversight: bill sponsor
The legislation only asks for records of the votes, not the deliberations, according to bill sponsor Delegate Lorig Charkoudian, D.
“People can still have all the candid conversations they want, which frankly, I think should also be public,” she said in an interview Monday.
Key issues are discussed in lower-level meetings that affect state clean energy policies and ratepayer protections, such as the capacity market and interconnection rules, according to Charkoudian.
“Members of PJM, specifically the utilities, are accountable to the Public Service Commission, to the state legislature,” she said, noting that utilities are given their monopoly franchise with the understanding that they should make decisions that are in the public interest.
“Yet they have an opportunity to vote secretly on a regular basis in a body that regularly undermines our ability to protect ratepayers and move to clean energy,” Charkoudian said.
She plans to reintroduce the bill next year if it doesn’t pass in the current session.
In the long-term, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needs to reform regional transmission organization governance rules, she said.
It is important to understand what is happening at the lower-level committees because they decide which initiatives at PJM move forward to higher-level committees, according to Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program.
Also, PJM releases aggregate voting results at the higher-level committees that don’t indicate how individual members voted, he said Monday.
The argument that releasing voting results would stifle discussion was also used by members of the New England Power Pool – ISO New England’s stakeholder group – to bar reporters and the public from its meetings, according to Slocum.
The trade publication RTO Insider, in a 2018 complaint at FERC, sought to be able to attend NEPOOL meetings. FERC rejected the complaint in 2019, saying NEPOOL’s policy on who can go to its meetings fell outside the agency’s jurisdiction over electric rates. However, FERC ruled that NEPOOL couldn’t bar a news organization from becoming a member and therefore able to attend meetings.
FERC has “no interest” in RTO governance issues, according to Slocum. “FERC is really just derelict in its obligation to oversee the important details of what's going on in RTO stakeholder processes, so now it's up to the states,” he said.
Public Citizen may file a petition for a “notice of inquiry” asking FERC to revisit governance rules established in Order 719, which the agency issued in 2008, Slocum said.
West Virginia PSC seeks access to meetings
Meanwhile, the West Virginia PSC filed a complaint last week at FERC arguing that PJM is violating its rules and FERC’s transparency requirements by barring officials from the PSC and other state utility commissions from meetings between the PJM Liaison Committee and the grid operator’s board.
“By denying state regulatory commissions the right to observe these important Board-member stakeholder meetings, PJM has deprived the PSC WV of an important tool through which it could gain better insight into PJM matters affecting West Virginia electricity consumers,” the PSC said in the complaint, filed March 8.
PJM didn’t reply to a request for comment on the complaint and the Maryland bill.
Until 2018, PJM allowed state regulatory commissions, the Organization of PJM States Inc., FERC commissioners, FERC staff, PJM members, PJM staff and the grid operator’s independent market monitor to attend the Liaison Committee meetings, according to the complaint.
“Certain entities” challenged the right of the state utility commissions and the market monitor to attend the committee meetings on the basis that only “members” should be allowed to attend, the PSC said.
Now, Liaison Committee meetings can only be attended by committee members, PJM members, the PJM Board, the committee secretary and PJM audiovisual staff.
Discussions at the committee meetings allow market participants to advocate for particular market designs and rules that may not be in the best interest of West Virginia, according to PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane.
“This compromises the PSC’s ability to understand the full range of underlying factors and special interests driving PJM decisions so that it can be fully armed to protect the West Virginia electric customers in grid decisions, as well as in decisions we make in regulating West Virginia electric utilities,” Lane said March 8 in a statement.