January 20, 2022
This year has certainly gotten off to a challenging start in a lot of ways, but I still appreciate the new year as a chance to reflect and refresh, to think about coming priorities. While transmission is top of mind for me and many of you, I want to speak briefly about two of my other 2022 priorities.
First, as we draw closer to the end of January without any major extreme weather events, and as we gird for whatever the rest of the season will bring, reliability, and in particular winter reliability concerns, must remain front and center. FERC’s annual Winter Energy Market and Reliability Assessment, and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recent Long-Term Reliability Assessment, provide stark warnings of reliability concerns right now, this winter; as well as over the next 10 years. The NERC assessment emphasizes that some regions face an increasing possibility of loss of load scenarios under extreme conditions. The Commission has an opportunity to build on the good records initiated in our extreme weather and reliability technical conferences, as well as the lessons learned from Winter Storm Uri, Hurricane Ida, and the 18 other 1 billion dollar or more natural disasters the country endured during 2021.
As part of this effort, I hope you all will join me in committing to an honest reliability dialogue that doesn’t brush over the nuanced complexities of the electricity system, that acknowledges variations in geographies and regional needs, that avoids blaming a particular resource type or market design for not standing up to extreme conditions, and that swiftly moves us towards the planning, standards and coordination required for a more reliable and resilient system.
Second, and closer to this month’s agenda items, it is my priority to finalize a modernized natural gas pipeline certification policy. As I have said many times before and repeated at last month’s meeting, the Commission’s 1999 policy statement is outdated and deeply flawed. I look forward to working with my colleagues to update this important policy statement in a way that facilitates a realistic needs analysis appropriate for 2022 and beyond, as well as appropriate consideration of environmental impacts sufficient to satisfy our statutory obligations.
The only agenda item I will speak to is related to this priority, C-2, Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC.
Today I am making a hard decision to deny rehearing of the Authorization order that approved placing the Weymouth compressor into service, as well as declining to provide the remedies sought by parties responding to our Briefing Order. There is no way to sugarcoat this outcome related to the environmental, health, and safety concerns voiced by many in this proceeding, including the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, Mothers Out Front, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Towns of Weymouth and Braintree, the City of Quincy, the Massachusetts Attorney General, federal and state legislators, several other groups and many individuals. While I do not hold out the expectation it will provide comfort to those voicing concerns, I do think it is important to explain how we got here, why I voted as I did today, and the lessons we should learn from this proceeding to improve our decision-making in certificate cases.
The Commission issued a certificate for Algonquin’s Atlantic Bridge Project in January 2017, and the D.C. Circuit upheld that decision in 2018. Via delegated authority, the Commission then issued separate authorizations approving construction and allowing the project to commence operations.
Subsequently, I joined the Commission in time to vote with the majority in favor of the briefing order that informs our decision today. I voted for the briefing order because, in light of the multiple unplanned blowdowns that took place at Weymouth, the significant impact of COVID in the area, and PHMSA’s then-pending investigation of the blowdowns and corrective action order, it would have been irresponsible to not pause and provide an opportunity for fulsome consideration of whether changed circumstances supported remedial action by the Commission.
After careful consideration of the record, I have concluded we lack the legal and evidentiary basis to change course.
But I want to be clear about something. The original culprit in this proceeding was not the decision to take a pause and consider changed circumstances, but the inadequate certification policy statement and environmental consideration under which a certificate was originally awarded. Predicting whether the outcome would have been different under an improved policy is impossible. However, ensuring that future certificate decisions are based on a full analysis of need and environmental impacts, including fulsome consideration of potential impacts on environmental justice communities, would lend a great deal more support for, and therefore credibility and durability to, the decisions made. The responses to this briefing order have deepened my understanding of these issues. I thank and commend those who have provided valuable input for further informing my approach to implementing a modernized certificate policy statement.
More generally, despite two of my colleagues’ impassioned warnings that the sky is falling on regulatory certainty, the Commission continues to receive and process section 7 certification applications. Moreover, given my experience as an infrastructure project finance attorney who has dealt with the risk of policy change, I am confident that the path to regulatory certainty does not lie in continuing to ignore the legitimate concerns of stakeholders. It does not lie in hiding behind blanket claims of reliability risk. And it does not lie in holding on to increasingly stretched parsings of federal court decisions in an attempt to avoid their collective logical conclusion, which is that the current policy statement isn’t working. I look forward to engaging with my colleagues in swift, common sense and legally compelled reform.
E-1: INSM Final Rule
Thank you, Milena and Cesar, for the presentation. I do not have any questions for you; however, I want to express my support for this NOPR (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking).
In my opening comments I mentioned the need to improve the reliability of our system; this includes the cybersecurity of our system. Our September Reliability technical conference had a cyber security panel where experts warned the Commission of the increasing volume and complexity of cyber threats and that the trend shows no sign of subsiding. Steps like today’s NOPR are a step in the right direction, and I urge NERC to move as quickly as possible to develop the reliability standard for our consideration.