By Rebecca Kern
Kevin McIntyre was sworn in Dec. 7 as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
McIntyre joins FERC just before the agency is expected to issue an order on Dec. 11 in response to an Energy Department proposed rule to subsidize certain coal and nuclear plants.
McIntyre, formerly the co-leader of Jones Day’s global energy practice, was confirmed by the Senate Nov. 2 along with fellow FERC Commissioner Richard Glick, who was formerly Democratic general counsel for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Glick was sworn in on Nov. 29.
His addition to FERC brings the agency to full staffing of five commissioners for the first time in more than two years.
McIntyre took over the chairmanship from Republican Neil Chatterjee, formerly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)'s energy aide, who was designated chair on Aug. 10. Chatterjee remains at FERC as a Republican commissioner.
Other members include Democratic Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, who joined in 2010, and Republican Commissioner Robert Powelson, who joined in August.
The proposed rule to boost coal and nuclear from Energy Secretary Rick Perry has sparked strong opposition from regional grid operators, oil, gas and renewable groups, and conservative think tanks.
The groups in favor of the proposal include the coal utility FirstEnergy Corp., the coal mining company Murray Energy Corp., and the Nuclear Energy Institute trade organization, whose members stand to benefit from subsidies should the rule go ahead.
More than 700 comments were filed on the FERC docket for the DOE proposal, the majority of which opposed it, based on a Bloomberg Environment review.
With the addition of McIntyre, three Republicans will be on the commission. However, it is unclear how McIntyre will rule on the proposal. He has said FERC is an an agency that is resource neutral.
“FERC is not an entity whose role includes choosing fuels for the generation of electricity,” he said during his September Senate confirmation hearing.
Powelson has come out against the Energy Department proposal, saying it could “blow up the markets,” and LaFleur also has said she wouldn’t support the proposal as is.
Chatterjee has floated an “interim plan,” which he first discussed in early November, that calls for paying to keep online coal and nuclear plants at risk of closing for economic reasons while a long-term market fix is developed.
The interim solution touted by Chatterjee echoes a proposal devised by utility FirstEnergy, and Chatterjee has said he has met with the utility since the proposal was sent to FERC.
He said this plan would be an alternative to closing the old plants and building new ones to replace them. He would need three votes to support the plan, and it’s not clear whether he has them.
Alternative plans could include a notice of inquiry directing regional grid operators to provide their own solutions or starting from scratch by issuing a new advanced notice of proposed rulemaking and proceeding to take more public comments.
Other perhaps less likely options are for FERC to adopt the proposal as is, or reject the proposal altogether and take no further action.
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