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By Rebecca Kern
Republican and Democratic nominees for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission agreed that the agency should be technology neutral when it comes to regulating electric power generation, differing from a pro-coal stance of the current FERC chairman.
The FERC nominees were in line with the traditional viewpoint of an independent energy regulator, which is to not favor any particular energy resource. However, these comments seem to contrast with the pro-coal rhetoric from current FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee and the Trump White House, which has repeatedly promised to bring back coal jobs.
“FERC is not an entity whose role includes choosing fuels for the generation of electricity,” Kevin McIntyre, who was nominated for a Republican commissioner seat, said at a Sept. 7 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing. McIntyre, who was also nominated to serve as chairman of the commission, is an attorney in the Washington offices of the Jones Day law firm.
Richard Glick, who has been nominated to fill a Democratic commissioner seat, said, “The commission doesn’t have the authority —not should it—to prop up failing technologies.” Glick is currently a Democratic general counsel for the Senate ENR committee.
The comments contrast with those made by Chatterjee—the agency’s appointed chairman until McIntyre is confirmed—in an Aug. 14 FERC podcast. Chatterjee, the former energy aide for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said that coal-fired power plants, as well as nuclear plants, are a crucial part of America’s energy mix that needed to be “properly compensated to recognize the value they provide.”
He also said in the podcast, “You know, I’m a Kentucky native— I’ve seen firsthand throughout my life how important a contribution coal makes to an affordable and reliable electric system.”
When asked about the Energy Department’s grid reliability study, which was published Aug. 23, both nominees said that the significant loss of baseload coal and nuclear energy generation has not impaired the reliability of the wholesale electric markets to date.
However, Glick said, “I think both FERC and the Department of Energy need to keep an eye on that and continue to study the matter.”
McIntyre and Glick were also on the same page when it came to supporting states’ rights to establish an energy resource mix that best serves their customers, which would include creating renewable portfolio standards, or requirements that utilities supply certain amounts of electricity from renewable sources.
“Congress has left for the states the authority over utility resource decision making, so that’s not FERC’s role,” Glick said.
Likewise, McIntyre said, “The states have the absolute right to implement these renewable portfolio standards.”
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) asked the nominees whether they thought that solar and wind resources could be reliably integrated into the grid.
Glick said that nine states get more than 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources, and none have had reliability problems.
In response to the question, McIntyre said, “In part due to actions taken in recent years by the FERC, renewable energy resources are making their way reliably to our grid.”
Committee Chairman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters after the hearing that she wants to hold a vote on the nominees by late next week. If the two nominees are confirmed by the Senate, it will bring FERC back to a full five commissioners.
“It is my intention to urge my colleagues to get their questions in and to ask you to be rapid with your responses so that you can be moved through and so that you can get to work,” Murkowski said during the hearing.
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