Author: Catherine Morehouse 3/16/2021 Utility Dive
This is the latest installment in Utility Dive’s “Taking Charge” series, where we engage with power sector leaders on the energy transition.
Allison Clements, the 10th female commissioner to serve as a Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner, began her first public meeting this December with a promise: that the “grave threat of climate change” would absolutely underlie her role, which oversees the certification of pipelines, and setting rules for a wide swath of the U.S. power sector.
Her nomination and successive confirmation comes at a critical time for FERC. The agency has generated more public interest as pressure mounts for the power sector to quickly decarbonize in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. FERC’s role is deemed essential to that transition, and Clements will be a key player in enabling a broader array of voices to share their input, in her newly-established position of leading the Office of Public Participation.
In a comprehensive interview with Utility Dive, Clements laid out her vision for that office, as well as her thoughts on FERC’s role in ensuring climate resilience following the mass outages in Texas, the need for transmission reform, some of FERC’s more controversial rulings under the Trump administration, and more.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
UTILITY DIVE: FERC recently announced that it would close its resilience docket, and then opened a new proceeding to examine the threat that climate change poses to electric reliability. What role can FERC play in ensuring a reliable grid in the face of unprecedented weather conditions?
COMMISSIONER ALLISON CLEMENTS: Sure. I don’t have full details yet, and I anticipate it being a pretty broad agenda. The issue of how climate change and changing weather patterns impacts the grid is a broad set of issues and — I’ve said this before — it’s not just a planning issue, and it’s not just a reliability issue, and it’s not just an operations issue. It’s all of the above. And starting to consider that broad set of issues and even understanding how to begin to categorize things that the commission might take on [is important] to help to prevent, to the extent possible, these types of events in the future.
UD: Why do you think it’s important for FERC, in particular, to tackle this?
CLEMENTS: None of these issues, as we saw in Texas, stop at the edge of a [regional transmission organization (RTO)] boundary, or the edge of a balancing authority boundary. And I think we also saw examples, although we don’t have specific details and analysis yet, of cases where power sharing was really helpful. [The PJM Interconnection] was exporting more power than usual to [the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO)], and MISO was able to ask to export, in some parts of the emergency, more power than usual to [Southwest Power Pool (SPP)].
I even heard an anecdotal story and, again, we’ll see if this actually played out, but an LNG facility in Texas was able to scale back its own operation so that more gas could be available to flow over to the generators.
UD: Transmission is a big priority for you and other commissioners, including the chair. But I also understand tackling those policies is a big challenge, and something the commission tried to take on before, with Order 1000. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing FERC in reforming transmission?
CLEMENTS: One of the biggest challenges the commission faces today, 10 years after Order 1000, is to figure out a way to allow efforts to develop offshore wind transmission and other significant transmission projects to move forward, while at the same time considering broader transmission planning and cost allocation reform.