September 23, 2021

Like all the months of my tenure so far, the last month has involved a great deal of pain and suffering for many Americans who have felt the most recent impacts of extreme weather. Hurricane Ida hit the Southern US and made its way East, leaving lives lost and millions without power in the excessive summer heat. Affected utilities and grid operators, as well as neighboring utilities offering assistance, were impressive in their quick work to begin the restoration of power, which has been a challenge of great magnitude in light of the over 30,000 downed poles in Louisiana and Mississippi. I’m thinking of the 16,000 customers still without power in Louisiana, and all those who have had to face down the subsequent Hurricane, Nicholas, right on Ida’s heels.  Out West, there continues to be 67 “active” wildfires burning over 3 million acres across 12 states, threatening people and properties. I continue to process how the experience of people impacted by these events informs our role here at the Commission.

In perhaps better news, yesterday was the first day of Fall. With the seasons changing, kids going back to school—things are picking back up again. In this moment of change in D.C., I’ve been reflecting how, for the energy sector, the changing seasons mean a potential momentary reprieve from heat and fire-related system risks before cold winter risk sets in.

I’ve talked several times about the now hard-hitting reality and inequity of climate change impacts as facts that should inform the Commission’s decision-making processes like all other facts that are entered into the record. The Commission has a central role to play in facilitating the reliability and resilience investments that are necessary to adapt to a changing climate, and I applaud the Chairman and staff for initiating several proceedings to build an informative record here.

I’ve also spoken about the fact that the market and policy forces driving the changing resource mix and broader energy transition are not going away, regardless of how current federal legislative proposals play out here in Washington, now, or in their next iteration.  While a significant portion of the factors driving the energy transition fall outside the Commission’s jurisdiction, the decisions we make today about transmission system planning, reliability and market design will have a significant impact on how customers and communities fare in that transition.  Two issues on the Commission’s plate this month will inform our thinking on important potential actions related to these challenges and system opportunities.

First, I am looking forward to today’s FERC-NERC staff presentation with preliminary findings on the cold winter event in Texas and the South Central United States. The inquiry is an important step in furthering our understanding of precisely what went wrong in February, up and down the electricity supply chain and across the distribution and transmission interconnections. For the report to be as actionable as possible, I have recommended that it include broader lessons learned, which may aid regions in identifying opportunities to improve their own system reliability.    

For example, based on what we know, I would expect that the report will consider not only how to harden the existing system elements that failed and led to outages in February, but also alternative solutions to deliver reliable service in extreme weather events using the full suite of technologies now available. I would also expect that the report will examine the resilience value of greater transmission links between regions and whether there is a related need to begin facilitating no-regrets solutions that will lower the cost of serving customers in the near and longer-term.

My hope is that the report will add to the record in the Commission’s administrative docket examining climate change, extreme weather, and electric system reliability and will serve as a catalyst for concrete reforms to avert or mitigate the impacts of similar crises the system may face in the future. As Chairman Glick explained after launching the inquiry, the report must not simply sit on the shelf and gather dust.

Second, lessons from the FERC-NERC staff report will be important as we consider the record in the pending, and grandly titled, Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Electric Regional Transmission Planning, Cost Allocation and Generator Interconnection (ANOPR). Today’s meeting is the last one before initial comments are due in that docket. I’ve spoken a great deal about the critical nature of this effort and today I want to emphasize the inextricable tie between improving resilience and reliability in the face of increasing extreme weather and our nation’s approach to transmission system planning during this energy transition.  Future-focused planning that appreciates the accelerating impacts of climate change on the electricity system is our path to long-term customer protection.

As you think about putting the finishing touches on your comments in the ANOPR docket, I encourage you to offer creative, and even collaborative, solutions aimed at the reality that the system of the future face frequent extreme weather threats due to climate change, and in appreciation that the pace of regulatory processes requires the initiation of decision paths today, to protect customers going forward.

I am glad for the upcoming opportunity to learn both from the impending final FERC-NERC staff report and the related ideas stakeholders provide the Commission on the record in our ANOPR docket.

This page was last updated on September 23, 2021