“Don’t make consumers in another state pay for” climate policies of neighboring states: FERC Commissioner

Many supporters of renewable energy are urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to overrule state objections to transmission projects for renewable energy deployments and force them to pay for it whether or not they have renewable energy mandates.

FERC commissioner Mark Christie has come out against these calls.

As reported in RTO Insider:

“There’s a lot of people running around Congress, ghostwriting letters for congressmen to send to us saying, ‘Well, don’t let the state stand in the way,’” Christie said. “You know, don’t let the states be an obstacle. FERC should just do it. FERC should just impose the cost allocation.” 

That’s a recipe for disaster, according to Christie, who said going against the states’ wishes would invite severe blowback from state legislators.

While Christie has overseen several controversial projects during his time on Virginia’s State Corporation Commission, such as the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line (TrAIL), he noted that the process of “giving the public the opportunity to come in front of their own state body… played a big part in why politicians didn’t come out in opposition to it.”

As RTO Insider reports:

If FERC were to overrule a state’s rejection of such a project, all its senior politicians, including its congressional delegation, would oppose it.

“You cannot get stuff built without state buy-in,” Christie said.

This is especially true when the transmission buildouts are for state-specific climate policies, such as going 100 percent carbon-free, instead of projects necessary for reliability. Overruling state objections to these projects would effectively make energy consumers pay for the cost of “going green” in neighboring states.

Christie calls these “public policy” projects and explains why they differ from reliability projects.

“A public policy project is planned by politicians; [it is] fundamentally different,” Christie said. 

They work in single-state markets, but in RTOs, with multiple states that often have divergent policies, they can lead to problems. 

“If politicians in one state want 100% green energy, that’s fine,” Christie said. “If they want to pay for it. If they’re willing to accept the reliability consequences. That’s fine. But don’t make consumers in another state pay for it, unless they agree.” 

It does not make sense to throw those three categories into a regulatory blender and allocate every type of line across an entire RTO footprint, he added. 

“Even a policy project has reliability benefits,” Christie said. “Well, tangentially it may. You can build a line almost anywhere and get some congestion relief. That doesn’t mean it’s the optimal solution.” 

The way to build transmission projects is to have states buy into them, even when they are incredibly controversial like TrAIL, which is on the same scale of transmission that the NOPR’s supporters most want to see get built. Getting FERC to impose cost allocation on the states if they cannot independently come to an agreement will not work, Christie said. 

“I think that’s a pipe dream,” he added. “I think that’s just totally unrealistic the way things work in America.”

Christie is absolutely correct: states without renewable energy mandates should not be forced to pay for the transmission buildout needed to satisfy mandates in neighboring states.