Wellinghoff Sails Through FERC Reconfirmation

By Published On: December 21, 2007

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Jon Wellinghoff was unanimously reconfirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve a full second term December 19. In July 2006, the former Nevada consumer advocate’s initial nomination for a partial term was approved with virtually no opposition. Wellinghoff’s current term expires next June and his consecutive FERC term runs to June 2013. The Senate also reconfirmed commission chair Joe Kelliher for a new term. During a December 18 U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources nomination hearing, Wellinghoff reiterated his commitment to protecting consumers from high energy costs. That includes easing the way for renewable supplies to increase competition and provide resource diversity. Other areas needed to achieve grid improvement are greater demand response and energy infrastructure and software efficiencies. “Incorporating efficiency also has the added benefit of reducing energy use and thus reducing local and global emissions, including greenhouse gases.” About 10 to 15 GWs alone could be “squeezed out” of natural pipeline operations via efficiencies, including waste heat recovery at compressor stations, according to Wellinghoff. Another $35 billion in savings is achievable over 20 years, he said, by curbing excessive energy use on roasting afternoons through more demand response programs. He is also pressing for negawatt providers to be paid on par with generators to bring power costs down. (Negawatts are the reverse of building plants to produce MWs or kWs. Instead (n)MWs are an accounting of energy units saved through efficiency measures and conservation.) While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission now has a majority of commissioners from Western states, Wellinghoff stands out politically. He came from a Democratic nomination. Only one other, Suedeen Kelly, holds that political affiliation. Western representation and party affiliation became a major issue during California’s 2000-01 energy crisis, when federal regulators were excoriated for not caring about the state’s struggle because they all represented Eastern regions. At the time, three of the commissioners were Democrats. That partisanship was slanted soon after the state’s energy crisis toward Republican nominations. Subsequently, California lawmakers accused the commission of partisan and regional politics when they did not refund the state its requested $9 billion from alleged market manipulation. A suggestion during Wellinghoff’s hearing by Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) to count so called “clean coal” as renewable power was rejected. Wellinghoff noted that wind, solar, geothermal and biomass were “fundamentally different” from coal power projects. The latter are large-scale systems, about 1,000 MW, and not location dependent, like renewable plants. “I personally wouldn’t include” clean coal, said Wellinghoff, in a federal Renewables Portfolio Standard, a strategy he strongly supports. Wellinghoff responded to criticism that the commission is running roughshod over local communities opposed to liquefied natural gas by promising to increase the transparency of commission rulings. “There is bedlam out there,” said Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). “Our citizens are running around to scores of meeting, saying they can’t get good info.” The commissioner said he would urge FERC to look at liquefied natural gas projects comprehensively and make “key judgments” about which ones “best serve markets.” However, he noted he did not support FERC choosing which plants will succeed, insisting that the market forces decide. Wellinghoff acknowledged public power agency concerns about high costs associated with independent system operators and regional transmission operators. “We do have to align incentives to make sure we aren’t paying too much.” However, he also urged municipal power agencies to offer concrete suggestions for improvements.

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