Changing Planet

FERC Rejects Proposed Grid Resiliency Rule, Issues New Order

The five members of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Monday unanimously rejected a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the Department of Energy (DOE) to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in the electricity markets FERC oversees (subscription). Instead it opened a new proceeding in which it calls on regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) to submit information to FERC on certain resilience issues and concerns within 60 days (subscription).

Since Sept. 28, when DOE Secretary Rick Perry proposed mandating that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for providing “resiliency” services to the grid, a broad array of power sector stakeholders have raised concerns about the legality and vagueness of the proposed rulemaking and the short timetable to implement it.

In voting against the DOE proposal, FERC found that neither the proposal nor comments on it revealed a problem with existing market rules.

“While some commenters allege grid resilience or reliability issues due to potential retirements of particular resources, we find that these assertions do not demonstrate the unjustness or unreasonableness of the existing RTO/ISO tariffs,” FERC wrote. “In addition, the extensive comments submitted by the RTOs/ISOs do not point to any past or planned generator retirements that may be a threat to grid resilience.”

FERC went on to note that even the DOE’s own grid reliability study, cited to justify the DOE proposal, “concluded that changes in the generation mix, including the retirement of coal and nuclear generators, have not diminished the grid’s reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid.”

FERC’s Jan. 8 order means electric grid operators must answer questions from the commission about how they define resilience, what they do to ensure it and how they evaluate threats to it.

Although FERC could issue a new order after receiving that information, The Washington Post suggests that the language in the current order would support the trend toward free competitive electricity markets.

One issue not raised in the debate, which centered on market concerns, was changes to the electric system to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Researchers at Resources for the Future projected significant emissions increases and negative effects on social welfare had the DOE Notice of Proposed Rulemaking gone forward.

Trump Administration Unveils Plan to Vastly Increase Oil Drilling Off U.S. Shores

The Trump administration revealed a draft plan that would greatly expand oil drilling to areas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans that were previously protected.

“This is a start on looking at American energy dominance,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, adding that the proposal would make the United States “the strongest energy superpower” (subscription).

Previous administrations had largely limited offshore oil and gas production to the Gulf of Mexico, but Zinke’s proposal would make more than 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf open for leasing. His proposal includes 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024 in 25 of the nation’s 26 offshore planning areas. Among them: 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, 9 in the Atlantic, and 7 in the Pacific (some off the coast of California).

“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period,” Zinke said (subscription). “Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which would oversee the leasing process, will hold a 60-day public comment period on the plan.

Although embraced by oil and gas industry groups, the proposed plan is expected to face oppositionfrom governors of many coastal states and many U.S. lawmakers.

On Tuesday, a group of 37 senators called the proposal “the height of irresponsibility” (subscription).

“This draft proposal is an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input, and we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety, and economic security for the interests of the oil industry,” the senators wrote in a letter to Zinke.

The proposal follows an April 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump requiring that the Interior Department reconsider former President Barack Obama’s five-year offshore drilling plan.

If finalized, the proposal would reverse Obama’s ban on drilling on the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic, but, in addition to Florida waters which Zinke this week closed to drilling, it would keep off-limits the waters near Alaska’s far-western Aleutian Islands, which were protected by former President George W. Bush.

People’s Hearings on Clean Power Plan Begin

Several “people’s hearings” planned by states to discuss the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) repeal of the clean Power Plan took place in New York, Maryland and Delaware this week. Proposed to be repealed in October, the rule aimed to set state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants.

The hearings follow an announcement last month by the EPA that it will hold three more hearings on its proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan—in California, Wyoming and Missouri—after criticism for not conducting a transparent review process and previously holding only one public hearing over two days in Charleston, West Virginia.

Transcripts and comments associated with the hearings will be sent to the EPA as part of its rulemaking—EPA is presently taking input on what should replace the rule. In an interview with Reuters, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt listed replacement of the Clean Power Plan as one of his top 2018 priorities—alongside plans to greatly reduce EPA staff and rewrite the Waters of the United States rule.

“A proposed rule will come out this year and then a final rule will come out sometime this year,” Pruitt said of the Clean Power Plan’s replacement.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.
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