President Joe Biden has named Richard Glick to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, giving leadership and agenda-setting authority to the agency’s longest-running Democratic member, a key opponent to some of FERC’s most clean-energy-unfriendly decisions under the Trump administration.
Thursday’s appointment was welcomed by clean energy groups as a critical early step to put a supporter of Biden’s energy and climate push in charge of setting the agenda of the federal agency that holds regulatory authority over interstate electricity transmission and natural gas networks.
Glick, a former government affairs director for Avangrid Renewables and Iberdrola and general counsel for the Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, replaces James Danly, the Republican who has held the position since November, when he was picked by Trump to replace long-time chair Republican Neil Chatterjee.
Under the Republican majority in place at FERC since 2017, Glick has been a consistent, and often sole, vote against a string of policy decisions that have been seen as undermining state-subsidized clean energy and carbon reduction policies.
Conflict over clean energy in capacity markets
Most notably, Glick has been vocal in his opposition to FERC’s minimum offer price rule order that is expected to reduce the competitiveness of state-subsidized energy resources in the capacity market operated by mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM.
That order, which is facing multiple legal challenges and is still in the final stages of implementation, could eventually force solar, wind and nuclear power resources out of the market across PJM’s 11-state territory; this has led states including New Jersey, Maryland and Illinois to consider departing PJM entirely.
“What we’re doing here — and we’re doing it on purpose — is making it very difficult for state-preferred resources to clear in the capacity market,” Glick said during the December 2019 meeting when his vote against the policy was overridden by FERC’s then-three-Republican majority.
Glick has also strongly opposed FERC decisions denying changes to New York grid operator NYISO’s buyer-side mitigation rules, which could also restrict the capacity market competitiveness of state-mandated renewable and energy storage resources. In a September dissent, he labeled these decisions as “a mind-boggling series of unnecessary and unreasoned obstacles aimed at stalling New York’s efforts to transition the state toward its clean energy future.”
He’s similarly condemned FERC’s approval of capacity and fuel security market designs by ISO New England, which was seen by many of the region’s state and federal lawmakers as undermining clean energy’s value as a grid resource.
And Glick was the sole “no” vote against FERC’s changes to the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act. He argued that the changes were driven by utilities and states seeking to reduce the competitiveness of independent developers that want to build projects in vertically integrated energy markets.
The powers, and limits, of FERC’s new leader
FERC retains a three-Republican majority with commissioners Danly, Chatterjee and its most recent addition, Mark Christie. That means that Glick and fellow Democrat Allison Clements will need to consider whether FERC policy proposals seeking to undo or replace these decisions would be able to be passed by the five-member commission, according to Jeff Dennis, managing director and general counsel at Advanced Energy Economy.
“Were it to issue something on its own to pull back on the policy, it would need at least three votes,” Dennis said in a press briefing last week. “Right now, we don’t know where the third vote lies.” Chatterjee's term at FERC ends in mid-2021, which would give the Biden administration an opportunity to nominate a Democrat to fill his seat, a move that could change the political balance at the traditionally nonpartisan agency.
But as its new chair, Glick will be able to set FERC’s agenda on key matters related to these decisions, such as whether and how to manage ongoing legal challenges to its minimum offer price rule order for PJM. Speaking at a December webinar hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy, Glick said, “I don’t think it’s legal” for FERC to impose its authority over state energy policymaking in this way. He added that if courts rule against them, “I think it would be the obligation of the commission to rework those orders.”
Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, highlighted Glick’s role in reversing these policies in a Thursday statement. “These are destructive, market-distorting policies that need to be repealed so low-cost renewables can fairly compete in the marketplace and consumers are not forced to pay more money than they should for clean, cost-effective renewable energy.”
Transmission policy and carbon pricing
Not all of FERC’s upcoming decisions are as politically fraught. One key area where the agency may find support from Republicans and Democrats alike is in reforming policies to boost the build-out of transmission grids to allow wind and solar power to expand at the rates needed to reach the Biden administration’s aggressive carbon reduction goals.
Glick is a proponent of expanding FERC’s authority, first set under 2011’s Order 1000, to streamline the complex planning and cost-allocation rules that have blocked the building of transmission projects that interconnect the country’s interstate transmission authorities, known as independent system operators and regional transmission organizations.
ACORE’s Wetstone noted that “not one interregional transmission line has been built” under existing Order 1000 rules. “It is time for FERC to adopt a new rule that helps modernize and expand our nation’s outdated and congested power grid.”
This view is shared by renewable energy developers and large corporate energy buyers. It could also find support from federal lawmakers hailing from wind-rich Republican-majority states that have resisted clean energy policies, as well as Democratic-majority states that have set zero-carbon and clean-energy mandates.
FERC could also launch rulemaking processes to engage multiple states and other stakeholders in the process of setting new planning and cost-sharing rules for other transmission challenges. Those could include reforms to interconnection policies that have burdened renewable energy projects with project-killing grid upgrade costs and creating new policies to allow regions to coordinate transmission networks to connect the gigawatts of offshore wind being built off the East Coast.
FERC’s recent work opening the door to allow interstate transmission authorities to make carbon-pricing proposals could also see bipartisan support, Wetstone said. That effort was led by Chatterjee, FERC’s former Republican chair, and has won the support of the Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA), the group representing companies that own natural gas plants that brought the original FERC complaint against state nuclear power plant subsidies that eventually led to FERC’s PJM minimum offer price rule.
“We have enjoyed a productive relationship with now-Chairman Glick and we look forward to continuing the conversation along with all of the FERC commissioners,” Todd Snitchler, president and CEO of EPSA, said in a Thursday statement. “EPSA will continue to provide market-based solutions that allow all resources to compete to reduce emissions at the least cost without undermining reliability.”