General Session panelists look at energy beyond PJM

Even without the Department of Energy’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, many issues drive the federal discussion of the electric energy industry these days.

Panelists from the federal sphere gave their perspective of the industry beyond PJM Dec. 6 at the first panel of the PJM General Session in Philadelphia.

 In opening remarks, PJM President and CEO Andy Ott said that it was good to reflect after a busy year in the industry and look at the “wider world” – including and beyond the issues of the DOE NOPR, price formation, and resilience.

Craig Glazer, vice president – Federal Government Policy, moderated the first panel of Rob Powelson, FERC commissioner; Mark Menezes, undersecretary, U.S. Department of Energy; and Jason Stanek, senior counsel – U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy.

The three discussed changes in the industry and what would constitute success in the big picture.

Menezes discussed recent meetings the DOE had with Canada and Mexico. Those meetings touched on the benefits and value of newer technologies in grid expansion, including spurring capital investments.

He also pointed out recent bills in the U.S. House of Representatives touch on much of what the DOE does.

“Battery storage, breakthrough technologies,” he said. “We have programs that we’ve been focusing on. We have patents and we continue to work with the industry to make gains. It’s always been a little difficult to get technology out of the lab.” He added the department is working with hydro power plants to bring incremental hydro onto the grid.

Menezes also touted work with Federal Emergency Management Agency, the nation’s labs and corporations on microgrids, “to see what technologies we can bring to the table.”

For Powelson, the FERC commissioner, his stint with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission gave him an understanding of PJM and robust markets. Now, with the FERC, he is dealing with the regional characteristics of the markets.

He said that certain RTOs say “leave us alone,” so they can work on climate, and, while the FERC needs to be respectful of them, those RTOs need to recognize the commission’s ability to address the value of the organized market.

He added it is imperative to look at how the business has evolved. While some people were concerned about the “dash to gas,” he said, just look to Pennsylvania. In 2004, the state supplied 2 percent of the nation’s natural gas; he said now it was close to 28 percent – a “tectonic shift.”

In 2008, he said, no one in the industry was talking about cybersecurity. “The threat vectors are changing,” and security – both cyber and physical – is driving much of the conversation at the commission, as well as pipeline infrastructure.

He also called the growth in exported liquefied natural gas the country’s “greatest peace dividend” for nations that yearn to “get off Putin gas.”

He added it will be good to have a quorum at the FERC for “the big topic du jour.”

“We’ll work constructively to put forth a workable solution,” Powelson said. And he hopes that the commission will continue to do “the boring good,” in terms of reliability and striking a balance. He suggested that might include state actions such as subsidies.

Stanek, senior counsel with the Subcommittee on Energy, discussed many issues within the framework of the committee’s Powering America series of hearings.

He said Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) saw 2017 as an opportunity to explore a new electricity policy for the nation, putting the focus on wholesale and bilateral markets. For 2018, the committee hopes to hold hearing on issues such as consumer advocacy, expired Department of Energy initiatives and possible reform of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978.

He said the different initiatives have piqued the interest of Democratic and Republican lawmakers. The DOE NOPR has split members by region, not party, with full-throated support of, and concerns about, the impacts on competitive markets.

Stanek added that the House has a passed a number of smaller bills, none of which have come up yet in the Senate.