The Trump administration has ended more than a year of delay in taking up the nomination of Democrat Allison Clements for a position on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a move that could bring more bipartisan balance to the agency’s 3-to-1 Republican majority if the U.S. Senate moves quickly to confirm it. 

Monday’s announcement of intent to nominate Clements, who is the founder and president of energy policy consulting firm Goodgrid, director of clean energy markets at the Energy Foundation, and former director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Sustainable FERC project, comes 17 months after U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer recommended her to replace Democrat Cheryl LaFleur, who left FERC in March 2019. 

The administration broke with longstanding precedent by declining to forward Clements’ nomination to the Senate last year, while at the same time nominating Republican James Danly to replace deceased commissioner Kevin McIntyre. 

This series of decisions has left FERC with a Republican majority since early 2019, despite the protests of Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who said after Danly’s Senate confirmation in March that they would not vote to advance more FERC candidates unless they included a Democrat. 

The Trump administration also announced the intent to nominate Mark Christie, a member of the Virginia Corporation Commission, to fill the FERC seat to be left open upon the retirement of Republican Bernard McNamee, who announced early this year that he would not seek a second term. McNamee said he would wait until a replacement was nominated before he leaves, as his departure before then could otherwise leave FERC without the quorum needed to approve decisions. 

FERC’s Republican majority has frequently voted to approve a series of decisions opposed by the commission's sole remaining Democrat, Richard Glick. Those include the Dec. 2019 vote by McNamee and Chairman Neil Chatterjee to require mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM to impose minimum prices on state-subsidized resources in its $10-billion-per-year capacity market. 

That order could bar many wind, solar, demand response, energy storage and nuclear power resources from effectively competing against natural-gas- and coal-fired power plants in the market. Chatterjee, McNamee and Danly also voted against Glick in April to deny requests from states and clean energy and environmental groups to rehear its PJM decision and the 2018 order that set it in motion, a move that has opened the door for multiple lawsuits challenging the ruling's legality. 

PJM, PURPA and Order 841

While PJM hasn’t yet completed a plan to comply with FERC’s order, and although the short-term effects of the changes ordered by FERC remain unclear, independent analyses have suggested the move could increase costs to the roughly 65 million electricity customers served by the 11-state grid operator by billions of dollars per year. 

Other decisions by FERC’s Republican majority to reject proposed changes to New York grid operator NYISO’s capacity market could undermine the competitiveness of renewable energy, energy storage and demand response resources in the state. Glick was also the sole vote against a decision earlier this month to approve changes to the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act that clean energy advocates say will stifle competition for independent energy projects in states that aren’t served by wholesale energy markets.   

In better news for clean-energy advocates, FERC’s Republicans joined Glick this month in voting to deny a petition from a New England nonprofit group that could have undermined state net-metering regulations across the country. Chairman Chatterjee has also supported FERC Order 841’s mandate for the country’s grid operators to open their energy and capacity markets to energy storage resources, which this month won a court victory against utility industry groups. 

Monday’s nomination of Clements and Christie won praise from groups that have long called for a restoration of political balance at FERC. Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the business group American Council on Renewable Energy, said in a Monday statement that the group has “long called for a full, bipartisan complement of five FERC commissioners. We hope the Senate can swiftly confirm these two strong candidates.” 

Todd Snitchler, president and CEO of the Electric Power Supply Association generators trade group, said in a Monday statement that "[f]illing the commission with a slate of qualified regulators is critical and timely." EPSA has decried FERC's delay in approving a final compliance plan for PJM's capacity market, which has prevented it from holding an auction since 2018 and deprived natural-gas generators of the revenue opportunities it provides.