Regulators seek climate rule 'safety valve' to protect electric grid

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) wants the Obama administration’s climate rule for power plants to include a “safety valve” to protect electric reliability.

The safety valve could allow a state to ask the Environmental Protection Agency for a temporary waiver to its compliance plan to protect the reliability of the electric grid.

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FERC’s letter to the EPA, sent late Friday, did not sound any loud alarms about reliability or say that the climate rule would necessarily threaten the electrical grid.

Congressional Republicans and the rule’s other opponents have highlighted reliability as a top disadvantage of the climate rule, warning that mass closures of coal-fired power plants would cause widespread blackouts.

The GOP has repeatedly called upon FERC to analyze how the rule would impact the grid in the hopes that the regulators would agree with their concerns.

Instead, the agency asked for the safety valve provision, which the EPA has said it is considering.

FERC, which is responsible for ensuring electricity reliability, said the climate rule could work similarly to a safety valve built into the EPA’s recent Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

The agency said it could help the EPA to determine whether a state's request for a waiver under the safety valve measure was valid.

“Specifically, after a plan is approved and in place, the commission could review a petitioner’s claim that unforeseen or emergency system conditions will result in violation of a commission-approved reliability standard or reserve margin deficiency, unless a compliance obligation is adjusted,” the agency wrote.

Janet McCabe, acting head of the EPA’s air pollution office, told lawmakers earlier this year that she has heard multiple calls for a safety valve provision, and she and her colleagues are listening.

The EPA’s rule seeks to slash the power sector’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030, with interim reductions in 2020.

FERC held a series of conferences in recent months to gather input from the EPA, states, utilities and others about potential reliability problems the rule would cause.

The agency told the EPA that speakers at the conference also asked for more flexibility in how they reach the 2020 goals. But FERC said it trusted that the EPA understood those concerns.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency was glad to see FERC weigh in.

“The information and insights that we’ve gleaned from these sessions and discussions have helped us in our continued focus on crafting a rule that provides sufficient time, flexibility and latitude for states, utilities and reliability organizations to take the necessary steps to ensure that all Americans continue to have access to clean, affordable and reliable energy,” she said.

Purchia added that the EPA is “committed” to working with FERC, the Energy Department and others to safeguard reliability.