FERC chairman updates senators on priorities for transmission-related dockets

Published on January 24, 2024 by Kim Riley

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Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Willie Phillips on Monday reassured congressional lawmakers that a proposed rulemaking related to regional transmission planning and cost allocation and concerns about the use of dynamic line ratings (DLR) both remain top priorities at the commission.

Phillips sent two separate letters on Jan. 22 — one to U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in response to the lawmaker’s query on FERC’s pending transmission planning rule; the other to U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) and copied to nine Democrats regarding DLRs.

Sen. Whitehouse in a Nov. 7, 2023, letter urged FERC to strengthen and swiftly finalize its regional transmission planning and cost allocation rule, as well as its backstop electric transmission siting authority rule.

“The need for additional high voltage transmission is well established and the consequences of failing to build more such lines are in sharp relief. We cannot afford the status quo,” wrote Whitehouse. “Yet FERC continues to let these proposed rules linger, risking the reliability and resiliency of our electricity system, as well as potentially saddling consumers with higher electric bills.”

FERC’s chairman responded this week saying both proposed rulemakings “remain among my chief priorities, especially following the commission’s issuance of its final rule on generator interconnection in July of 2023 (Order No. 2023).”

“While Order No. 2023 is historic, it is the first of what, I hope, will be several important measures that the commission takes to ensure that our electric grid is reliable, affordable, and sustainable,” wrote Phillips, adding his “strong agreement” regarding the importance of issuing final rules that promote the development of much-needed electric transmission. 

“As you note, increased transmission capacity will allow us to access new, low-cost generating resources to help keep customers’ energy bills affordable,” Phillips wrote. “In addition, a robust transmission network is the foundation for electric reliability, especially in the face of extreme weather events, such as those we have experienced throughout the country over the last several years and referenced in your letter.”

Phillips also thinks that there must be a realistic picture of the benefits that transmission can provide, coupled with a realistic set of scenarios that consider changes to the resource mix and demand. 

“Only then can we ensure that the costs of new transmission are allocated to customers in a manner that is fair and consistent with the ‘cost causation,’” he wrote.

DLR response

In his letter to Sen. King and the Democrats, Phillips also agreed that DLRs, advanced power flow control devices, and other grid-enhancing technologies (GETs) should be part of FERC’s consideration. 

“GETs can improve the efficiency of existing systems, integrate new renewable energy sources into wholesale electricity markets, and save ratepayers money,” wrote Phillips. 

It’s also imperative, he added, that the commission be able to act quickly on any electric transmission siting application that it receives, while also taking steps to ensure that the commission doesn’t unduly encroach on state authority.

King, in his Dec. 4 letter to Phillips, had expressed concern that DLR was not included in the final list of alternative transmission technologies to be studied for interconnection requests in Order No. 2023. 

At the same time, King also pointed to having a broader interest in advancing DLR implementation through FERC’s various other transmission-related proceedings, such as the Notice of Inquiry on the Implementation of Dynamic Line Ratings, in the Building for the Future Through Electric Regional Transmission Planning and Cost Allocation and Generator Interconnection, and in the Electric Transmission Incentives Policy Under Section 219 of the Federal Power Act.

“As I have consistently stated, I support the use and consideration of DLR and other alternative transmission technologies, where appropriate, as a means of improving the efficiency of electricity markets,” Phillips responded. “I believe that such alternative transmission technologies have the potential to increase the reliability of our grid and save ratepayers money, which is why they should be part of our consideration in the various transmission proceedings you mention.”

Additionally, FERC has launched an inquiry to obtain additional information regarding the relative benefits, costs, and challenges of DLR implementation, according to Phillips letter.

“In this, and the other transmission-related proceedings, I assure you that we will take your comments into consideration,” he wrote King.

FERC is also “diligently reviewing the requests for clarification and rehearing” regarding Order No. 2023, Phillips wrote.