The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would have to bolster interregional transmission planning and require greenhouse gas emissions reporting by utilities under a bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and three other Democratic senators.
The bill, which also addresses transmission cost allocation, grid interconnection and competitive generation procurement, comes as FERC is preparing to propose changes to a set of its transmission-related rules.
The bill gives FERC direction from Congress as the agency drafts its proposals, especially on interregional transmission planning, according to Jon Wellinghoff, distributed energy company Voltus' chief regulatory officer and former FERC chairman. "The bill helps inform what FERC is doing," Wellinghoff said.
In the short term, the bill is designed to give FERC guidance as the agency crafts its transmission and interconnection proposals, according to Devin Hartman, director of energy and environmental policy at the R Street Institute. In the long term, the bill's supporters aim to get bipartisan traction on key provisions of the legislation, which Hartman contends should appeal to people with a conservative economic philosophy.
The legislation — Connecting Hard-to-reach Areas with Renewably Generated Energy (CHARGE) — provides detailed direction on topics directly related to FERC's upcoming transmission proposals, including transmission planning, cost allocation and grid interconnection. It also has provisions dealing with generation procurement, the release of emissions data and state renewable energy subsidies, which FERC did not address in its advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on transmission issues.
Among its provisions, the bill requires interregional and interconnection-wide transmission planning to occur at least every three years. It also sets criteria that must be weighed when considering a proposed project's benefits.
"This bill sets out very definitive direction with respect to interregional planning, which is extremely critical to do to integrate and have the levels of renewables produced in this country that we need to decarbonize our grid," Wellinghoff said.
Among other provisions, the bill directs FERC to require utilities and other entities the agency regulates to make hourly operating generation data "transparent and accessible" to the public through a database to be run by the Energy Information Administration.
The data would include generation by fuel type and average and at least hourly information on marginal greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt hour of electricity produced within the boundaries of each entity and for each pricing node.
FERC "may" identify and reduce regulatory barriers to the development of commercial products that use the data that verify emissions reductions, including short- and long-term nodal congestion products, according to the bill.
The information is "essential for ensuring that we can get the most effective and efficient upgrades to the grid at the least cost, which is really critical for consumers if we're going to do this transition — if we're going to move to the decarbonized grid the Biden administration wants to do by 2035," Wellinghoff said.
The data will send market signals on where to locate new generation and how to manage consumption, according to Hartman, who helped draft the legislation. It's information highly desired by companies with environmental, social and governance goals and will slash greenhouse gas emissions voluntarily, he said.
“There's an enormous potential because the private sector is hypermotivated to reduce its direct emissions, and it's getting increasingly motivated to reduce the indirect emissions embedded in supply chains,” Hartman said.
The data could also be used to support efforts to buy clean electricity 24/7, a goal of the Biden administration and some companies, he said.
The bill would bar utilities from requiring an interconnection customer to "exclusively or disproportionately fund, without reimbursement," the costs of network upgrades needed to connect to the grid.
The bill also bars FERC from approving price mitigation measures, such as a minimum offer price rule, to offset the effects of state subsidies for renewable energy resources in wholesale power markets.
It requires that transmission planning regions have independent monitors to oversee their work and requires FERC to set up an advisory committee to make recommendations on regional transmission organization (RTO) and independent system operator governance and operations. The bill also requires competitive procurement for generation in regions without RTOs.
The legislation is "an important marker," according to Jeff Dennis, Advanced Energy Economy managing director and general counsel.
"We hope this is the start of the conversation," Dennis said on Twitter. "The electricity sector and energy technologies are evolving quickly, and the Federal Power Act needs to be updated to account for those changes and capitalize on their value to consumers and the nation's energy security."
The bill's other sponsors are Sens. Tina Smith, D-Minn., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
It is supported by Public Citizen, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Consensus, Grid Strategies and Digital Climate Action.