Greenwire's Northey previews impact of Honorable confirmation on FERC's reliability discussions

With the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission slated to hold a series of technical conferences on the Clean Power Plan early next year, how will the addition of Colette Honorable to the commission impact the reliability debate on the rule? On today's The Cutting Edge, Greenwire reporter Hannah Northey previews the dynamic year ahead for FERC. She also explains how Chris Smith's confirmation to the Department of Energy will influence the liquefied natural gas exports discussion.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the Cutting Edge. How will the addition of Colette Honorable to FERC impact reliability discussions on the Clean Power Plan? Greenwire's Hannah Northey is there to preview what will be a very dynamic year ahead for the commission. Hannah, it was a far less controversial confirmation for FERC with Colette Honorable. What is she expected to bring to the commission?

Hannah Northey: Well, I think collegiality is at the top of the list. She moved through the Senate the last week and was confirmed with little to -- I mean, there was no opposition that we really knew of, and so I think she's going to bring that collegiality to FERC and on Capitol Hill. She's also seen as a moderate on energy issues, and I think a lot of states are going to look to her for guidance. She -- when she was the chairwoman of the Arkansas Public Utility Commission, she was very even-handed. She gave equal time to renewables and fossil fuels, and so that's going to be pretty important at, you know, as her tenure at FERC. She also is bringing a lot of legal and regulatory expertise. She -- for 15 years, she's had a legal -- her past, and she worked under Sen. Mark Pryor when he was attorney general, and she also was the head of NARUC and so she's got a lot to bring to the commission.

Monica Trauzzi: On reliability, FERC has announced it's going to hold a series of technical conferences on the Clean Power Plan early next year. Honorable has raised questions about the impact the proposal could have on reliability. So how is this all going to start coming together in the new year?

Hannah Northey: Well, there are a lot of different moving pieces, but as we go into next year, we're going to kick it off with the February 19th technical conference at FERC, and FERC has decided to wade into this issue of reliability with the Clean Power Plan. The first meeting is going to be held in Washington, D.C., and that's going to take a national overview. So at that technical conference, we could hear from states and grid operators about concerns with implementing the rule, or actually from utilities that say it can be done. So -- and then another piece that we're looking for is the release of this high-profile report from NERC, the grid overseer. Earlier this year, NERC raised, you know, questions about whether there would be -- well, actually concerns, you know, whether there would be reliability implications by 2020, and so now they're going to release some more granular look at those problems. And throughout all of this, you know, I think leaders on Capitol Hill, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, she's going to be looking to Commissioner Honorable as, you know, maybe being sympathetic with some of those state concerns because she was, you know, at the head in Arkansas.

Monica Trauzzi: So is this the start of sort of a FERC versus EPA scenario over who has jurisdiction on elements of the proposal?

Hannah Northey: I would say no, but it depends on where you look. On Capitol Hill, Republicans in the Senate and the House are definitely asking FERC to take a more active role, and Republicans have said that EPA has overstepped its authority and, you know, this is an issue that should be left to engineers and expert grid overseers. I don't think that's the narrative that you're going to see play out at technical conferences, at meetings, at, you know, maybe sometimes at hearings. I think that FERC is going to ask the tough question, they're going to look at reliability, it's going to -- there's going to be a lot of discussion about the -- you know, the cooperation and collaboration between FERC and EPA and DOE. And -- but I think what you're going to hear continuously, at least through the first half of next year from Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur is that, you know, FERC is in charge of grid reliability and making sure that there are no problems, and she's said repeatedly that the EPA is the environmental regulator, so you know, the question is whether or not FERC will change that role that it's playing. Republican members at FERC have asked for a more formal role, so you're going to see that play out, hearings, technical conferences and as these reports come out.

Monica Trauzzi: Another big confirmation that you were tracking this week was that of Chris Smith to DOE. How is this going to be significant in the conversation over LNG exports?

Hannah Northey: Well, as Republicans take the Senate next year, oil and gas exports are going to be at the top of their agenda, and Chris Smith is going to, as he has in the past, defend the DOE's rate of approval when it comes to LNG exports. DOE approves exports to countries without a free-trade agreement with the United States so, you know, on one side, you have Republicans, they're actually, you know, happier about the DOE process. They tweaked it in May, and they now wait for FERC to complete its environmental reviews. And some have said that process is working better, DOE is moving faster. But there's always push and pull on Capitol Hill, and you know, there's a faction of Democrats, more liberal, saying this is moving too fast. They're concerned about prices. There's another faction that says, hey, let's move forward with exports. They're from producing states. So you're going to see all of those questions come to the fore, and Smith is going to be right at the center.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. Very interesting. A lot to watch.

Hannah Northey: Yeah, definitely.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for coming on the show.

Hannah Northey: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: The Cutting Edge returns in the new year on January 9th. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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