NARUC Winter Policy Summit gathers record number of regulators and stakeholders to discuss industry issues

Published on March 07, 2024 by Chris Galford

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The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) last month gathered regulators and stakeholders alike for a policy summit to discuss issues pertaining to energy and utilities.

Attendees turned out in record numbers, with nearly 1,900 people in attendance for workshops, speeches and networking opportunities. NARUC itself has, in recent years, increased its focus on reliability for electricity and natural gas and convened a panel on reliability through a natural gas perspective, and that same theme was dwelled on by many of the speakers.

Some, like Pacific Gas & Electric’s CEO Patty Poppe, have turned to operationala and cultural changes to keep things focused on service even in the face of recurring wildfires. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said that dependable, reliable, affordable energy uplifts everyone, and called for innovation of fuel sources to achieve dispatchable all day reliability. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Willie Phillips similarly stressed reliability, affordability, sustainability and environmental justice as priorities.

However, Phillips added that concerns remain over resource adequacy and that demand is growing because of data centers, AI, and quantum computing.

“The changes occurring in the electric industry are unprecedented,” Julie Fedorchak, NARUC president and North Dakota Commissioner, said. “State regulators sit at the cross-section of all of them and play a fundamental role in ensuring reliability and affordability are maintained. This conference zeroed in on some of the greatest risks and challenges including federal rules and policies, wildfires and gas-electric coordination.”

EPA representatives and podcasters, NARUC cybersecurity officials and more were also in attendance. Some discussed items like how to achieve a net zero economy without sacrificing affordability and reliability, along with the new technology investments needed to make it work, while others, like writer Robert Bryce alleged that the U.S. clean energy transition is too costly for the most vulnerable communities in particular, and will not solve the climate crisis unless other countries follow suit.

The event’s final general session focused on new NARUC and Department of Energy cybersecurity baselines and the increased danger of cyber threats from foreign governments and their affiliates. These baselines, reached in concert between government and state stakeholders, established new baselines for more consistency.

The NARUC Board of Directors also used the opportunity to pass a new set of resolutions focused on electricity and telecommunications, from support for states as the primary focus of siting and permitting authority, to urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recognize that primacy and rely on input from state utility and environmental regulators when developing carbon emission guidelines.