The public is soon going to have a seat at the top federal energy regulatory table. Even though Congress asked for this a long time ago (in 1978), only recently in the COVID omnibus bill did this Office of Public Participation (OPP) at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) finally get a budget. There is hope that this OPP may also provide renewable developers and consumer advocates a voice at FERC proceedings.
Timing is right given the environmental and social equity concerns spearheaded by environmental and environmental justice advocates. This new FERC office is also good news for small renewable developers since they don’t have the financial outlay to follow most FERC policies that impact them.
What is this new Office of Public Participation?
Background wise this OPP concept is not new. US Congress authorized this office in 1978. A group petitioned FERC to create this office four years ago. Tyson Slocum is the force behind this long-standing crusade and should get credit for his role in focusing on this FERC office establishment. US Senator Shaheen of New Hampshire has been a supporter of this office and underscored consumer advocates’ importance in federal energy policy.
What is new is that is now it is funded. Even energy industry followers would not have known about this development if not for FERC Commissioner Richard Glick’s tweet. In a sign that some social media accounts do provide information and inspiration, Commissioner Glick tweeted this office’s funding.
A sample of major FERC Orders that impact the public
FERC Order 2222 on Distributed Energy Resource Aggregation (DERA) comes first to mind about customer-owned generation finding a place on the high voltage grid. Small scale renewable developers greater than 100 kW can participate in organized markets. When we have more distributed resources on the grid, the customer benefits since they don’t have to pay for transmission charges.
PJM’s Minimum Offer Pricing Rule (MOPR) is another FERC policy that could benefit by public participation. MOPR was and continues to be a complex rule that threw many renewable developers at PJM and NY (with its version of MOPR) in a spin. But the public does not follow these FERC rules because these rules need a translator between the complex policy and the public. With FERC’s OPP setting up, the public should now be able to understand and follow how a state’s climate policies translate at multi-state Regional Transmission Organizations (RTO) regulated by FERC.
Climate change and energy transformation are another reason for a robust public dialogue with the federal energy regulator. With Republicans and Democrats evenly split in US Senate, there is talk about bi-partisan support for an infrastructure bill that focuses on high voltage transmission to deliver renewable energy. Hopefully, FERC’s OPP can support and engage the public in explaining the transmission charges and complex transmission planning protocols and models.
The timing could not have been better – full Commissioner contingent at FERC
For the first time since late 2018, FERC has full 5 commissioners at the helm. This development is a good sign for the public, given FERC’s important role in natural gas pipeline licensing, hydropower licensing, and other topical topics such as the recent California brownouts.
Even without the Office of Public Participation, there are multiple ways for the public to get involved at FERC. Landowners and citizens are encouraged to follow the “How to get involved” process steps to attend and comment. The key is to respect and follow the process. Let us hope that the public respects this great energy institution and fully takes advantage of this new office to advance renewable energy.