On Thursday, May 4, 2023, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, led by Chair Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY), held a Full Committee Hearing to Conduct Oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). All four sitting FERC Commissioners, including Acting Chairman Willie Phillips, James Danly, Allison Clements and Mark Christie, testified before the Committee, with most of the Committee members present. The reliability of the U.S. power grid, and FERC's role in designing markets and approving projects that promote reliability, was a primary focus of the hearing. Senators Manchin and Barrasso, who both hail from coal-producing states, elicited testimony from all four Commissioners that the elimination of coal-fired generation would hinder grid reliability. The Commissioners also agreed with the Senators' contentions that reliability provided by coal-fired and natural gas-fired generation cannot currently be replaced with renewable generation. Commissioner Phillips also testified that FERC must be resource neutral and agreed with questions from Senator Barrasso that delayed natural gas pipeline projects undermine efforts to integrate wind and solar facilities into the grid. Commissioner Danly explained that the operational characteristics of thermal generation resources support frequency and voltage in a manner that intermittent resources currently do not. Commissioner Christie, consistent with comments he has made during FERC's open meetings, testified that retirements of dispatchable resources, not the addition of renewable energy resources, threatened grid reliability. The Senators also sought follow up on FERC's natural gas pipeline certification policy, which was the subject of a heated oversight hearing in March 2022, and for information on hydropower licensing reform.
The hearing also touched on outstanding rulemakings that implement requirements set forth in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the allocation of costs for regional transmission facilities, and environmental justice community and tribal involvement in project siting. The Commissioners' differences of opinion on market design, including the role of regional transmission organizations and transmission incentives, was on full display during the hearing. However, all four Commissioners agreed that FERC's current four-person membership, split 50/50 on Democrat and Republican lines, has not prevented the agency's ability to fulfill its statutory obligations.
A more fulsome summary of the hearing can be found here.
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