What are the prospects for action on transmission policy in the House and Senate this year? During today's OnPoint, Sue Sheridan, president and chief counsel at the Coalition for Fair Transmission Policy, explains why she believes substantive congressional action on transmission and grid reliability could be possible. She also comments on the recent compliance filings relating to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Order 1000.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Sue Sheridan, president and chief counsel at the Coalition for Fair Transmission Policy. Sue, thanks for coming back on the show.
Sue Sheridan: Nice to be back, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Sue, with so much of the focus here in Washington being on the budget and sequestration, how big of an issue do you expect transmission to be moving forward this year?
Sue Sheridan: Well, we see several signs that there's sort of a coalescence around the issue as Order 1000 gets fleshed out. First of all, there are compliance cases coming out of FERC, which we saw in late March, and those are beginning to really show how difficult it will be to grapple with some of the vague terms and the not fully fleshed out issues under Order 1000. And we're also optimistic there'll be an interest in both the House and Senate. The House is undertaking some normal oversight hearings of agencies. They did that with the NRC a couple of weeks ago. And we also gather tha, we understand that Chairman Barton and Chairman Upton have an interest in the question of whether FERC is operating within its authority on Order 1000.
Monica Trauzzi: So we need to see a bit more beyond just the ordinary hearings in order for something substantive to happen in the House and Senate. Do you think that there is interest among the members to really address transmission and grid reliability?
Sue Sheridan: Well, I think particularly turning to the Senate, that Senator Wyden, who is of course chairman of Senate Energy Committee, and Senator Murkowski, who's the ranking member, both have taken an interest in this issue. In the last Congress, they were both original sponsors of the Corker Bill, which would have definitely made us feel more comfortable about FERC staying within its authority on benefits needing to be reflected more accurately in terms of cost allocation. And we understand that they are likely to have a hearing later this year in Senate Energy.
Monica Trauzzi: So Senate Energy, the first thing that they took up was natural gas. That is a big issue for them.
Sue Sheridan: Mm-hmm.
Monica Trauzzi: Where do you see Chairman Wyden going next? What do you think his other key issues will be, moving through the year?
Sue Sheridan: Well, he's got such a long history on the Hill, and I think he's hiring, putting together a very strong oversight team. And of course, there's a difference between oversight and investigations, but he'll have the capacity to do investigations as well. We've seen that with respect to the DOE Hanford site, where he's been worried about environmental consequences for decades.
Monica Trauzzi: What do you think the key elements are that are driving the transmission discussion right now?
Sue Sheridan: I think that there are just so many changes in the electricity markets. FERC of course is sort of on the forefront of thinking about what those changes are, which we're comfortable with. We wish that FERC had a more recent statement from Congress about what its authority is. We're concerned that FERC is overreaching.
Monica Trauzzi: And to that end, we had former Congressman Rick Boucher on the show not too long ago, and he's part of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Electric Grid Initiative.
Sue Sheridan: Mm-hmm.
Monica Trauzzi: And he said that the FERC process for expanding our transmission infrastructure is broken. Would you agree with that? And what do you think needs to be done to sort of finesse things a bit to move the process along?
Sue Sheridan: Well, I'm guessing that part of what he was thinking about was siting issues, with the Bipartisan Policy Coalition, or Center, spent a lot of time on, and the question of whether or not new lines can be sited and who should do it, whether it's a state authority or whether it's a federal authority. And you'll remember from the 2005 Energy Act that there was an attempt to make it a federal authority. But what's interesting to me about that is if you bring up one transmission issue or one Federal Power Act issue, like siting, where my coalition has no position, you also drag in the other issues inevitably in the debate.
Monica Trauzzi: Are there too many voices at play here? We have FERC. We have DOE. We have Congress. Is that one of the issues?
Sue Sheridan: Well, I would say actually that's how you know an issue may be gelling and coming to the fore in a practical way. Certainly there is litigation before the federal courts, and that will probably take the better part of this year, to reach any kind of conclusion. FERC has certainly put its cards on the table and said, this is what we believe, and this is what we think policy should be. Bipartisan Center as well. But I think that that's actually a sign of things heating up and coming to a practical understanding of what the issues are.
Monica Trauzzi: And so with such a lack of bipartisanship on so many issues in Congress that we're seeing right now, is this an issue where we could see bipartisanship?
Sue Sheridan: I think so. I think it will take time, again, because Federal Power Act issues become so enmeshed with each other, and also because, frankly, Congress hasn't done a lot of legislating recently. But again, I think we have a knowledgeable chairman and ranking members on both sides. And the other piece of it, Monica, is that the staffs are in place now. It's April, and the committees are all staffed up and ready to roll.
Monica Trauzzi: When you look at the rapidly changing power generation and transmission landscape, what concerns you the most about our transition to natural gas and our greater focus on renewables?
Sue Sheridan: Well, again, I hope this is something where Congress will get involved, because these discussions really need to happen outside and inside the Congress for anything to happen. But again, our big concern is that these are all worthwhile debates to have, but that they need to be done in Congress and not just off in the agencies or the courts.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. A lot to watch here. Thank you for coming on the show.
Sue Sheridan: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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