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Energy commissioner undaunted by delay in Perry coal rule consideration

Energy commissioner undaunted by delay in Perry coal rule consideration
© Camille Fine

The former head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said he isn’t discouraged by a 30-day delay in the agency’s consideration of a proposal to boost coal and nuclear power plants.

Neil Chatterjee, who was FERC’s chairman on an interim basis from August through last week, said he’s still pushing for the commission to take action on Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: Feds sued over fracking rule repeal | Perry says US ‘blessed’ with fossil fuels | Park Service gets new acting director Rick Perry: US 'blessed' to provide fossil fuels to the world New DOE competition aims to jump-start US solar manufacturing MORE’s proposal to require that grid operators pay more to coal and nuclear plants.

Though he was replaced as chairman by Kevin McIntyre, Chatterjee is still a commissioner, along with three others.

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Hours after he was sworn in, McIntyre asked Perry for a 30-day extension of the deadline, originally Monday, to take action on the proposal. Perry granted the request, though he warned that more delays could be harmful to the electric grid.

“I think it’s prudent that my colleagues want a little bit more time to carefully evaluate the docket,” Chatterjee said Monday at an event hosted by Axios, noting that McIntyre and Commissioner Richard Glick were both sworn in in recent weeks.

“And they intend to do that, and I presume that they will thoughtfully and carefully evaluate the fact-based, data-driven process that we have … at the commission, and we’ll look to see what potential actions can taken,” he said.

Chatterjee has been an outspoken advocate for an “interim” FERC rule to require higher payments while the agency takes a deeper dive into whether the electric grid is at risk due to closing nuclear plants.

He said Monday that he’s still pursuing the interim plan, intended for plants that are at imminent risk of closing, but it’s not his highest priority.

“My first priority is to look at this long-term question of resilience and security, understanding what these changes to our grid will mean,” he said.

“My concern is that in the amount of time it would take to do the analysis, to find out whether in fact these resources are needed, if short-term market pressures lead to some of these plants being prematurely retired, there could be consequences to that.”

Chatterjee said that he has faced some difficulties in crafting a plan to help coal and nuclear plants, while not distorting electricity markets, in a way that would stand up in court.

“The difficulty came from the parameters I put on myself going into the process, that whatever we did would not distort markets, because I’m a strong believer in markets. And I wanted to, and continue to, try to look for ways that we can answer the questions that Secretary Perry has asked, without having that impact on markets.”

Perry’s proposal has been welcomed by the coal and nuclear industries and their allies.

But nearly everyone else in the energy field opposes it, including natural gas interests, wind, solar, environmentalists, free-market advocates and many electric grid experts.