FERC First: Greenhouse Gas Impacts of a Gas Pipeline Evaluated

18 Mar 2021

Federal energy regulators took the unprecedented step of requiring an analysis of the greenhouse gas impacts of a gas pipeline certification. They also voted to remove market barriers to distributed energy resources during their March 18 meeting.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Rich Glick said the vote to consider greenhouse gas impacts into decision-making removes the “blinders” the Commission has been wearing to requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and Natural Gas Act. It also puts the agency in compliance with a ruling of the D.C. District Court of Appeals.

The 4-1 vote “reverses course on the potential environmental upstream and downstream impacts” of gas project certifications, Glick said. When he was in the minority, he long advocated to assess gas projects impacts on the climate. Assessing whether a project’s greenhouse gases may be significant does not “automatically doom the project,” he added.

Commissioner James Danly vigorously objected. He called the vote a “dramatic departure” from Commission precedent. FERC “lacks the tools to assess greenhouse gas impacts,” he added. 

Danly called on all gas and LNG developers and supporters to intervene in every related case to ensure their voices are heard.

Glick countered that all stakeholders, including the public, should intervene in FERC cases affecting them, “not just those who can afford high-priced law firms.”

Underlying the decision is the proposed reconstruction of the Northern Natural Gas Company’s 83-mile pipeline across South Dakota and Nebraska. After evaluating the climate impacts, FERC did not halt or “doom” the project, but instead concluded it would not result in significant greenhouse gas impacts.

Easing way for solar and battery project aggregation

A majority of commissioners also voted to prohibit grid operators from barring aggregated distributed resources from participating in wholesale markets.

“Eliminating barriers to newer technologies including energy storage and DERs has been one of my top priorities since coming to FERC,” Glick said. He added it will increase grid efficiency.

The vote means grid operators must allow aggregated mixes of distributed resources into their markets. Otherwise, the Commission Rule 2222 approved last year would be undermined. FERC continued to allow grid operators to bar unadulterated or just demand response resources.

Rule 2222 was largely based on the California Independent System Operator’s DER aggregation model implemented in 2016, according to grid operator spokesperson Anne Gonzales. “So, we have little to do to be in compliance this summer.”

Commissioner Mark Christie was adamantly opposed to further opening the market door to distributed resources on grounds that FERC substituted its judgment for those of state regulators, munis, and electric coops. He said it will result in “major investments” in distribution systems and “be extremely costly to customers.”

Commission staff noted that 10 MW of new storage is expected to come online by next year in the U.S. Of that amount, nearly 2 MW is to be in CAISO territory.

QF capacity determined by entire production output

The commission also allowed a large solar and battery project to sell power to a chosen utility under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act. In September 2020, the project in Montana—a 160 MW solar panel and 50 MW battery—was denied certification for exceeding the 80 MW threshold under PURPA. But this week, FERC pointed to the project’s inverter limitation that kept the facility from generating more than 80 MW.

“We are applying simple common sense,” said Commissioner Allison Clements.

She also noted the commission’s first listening session held March 17 to help shape its Market of Public Participation. The commission got an earful on barriers to public involvement, including daytime meetings and lack of Spanish interpreters. Clements said the commission may hold a meeting in Spanish to allow more voices to be heard.

Commission karaoke

The Thursday meeting started an unprecedented hour and 45 minutes late, as commissioners went back and for on issues, Glick and Chatterjee noted.

Chatterjee suggested in place of the hold music listeners were subjected to, in the future to let them hear commissioner karaoke.

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