Power Regulation

FERC Criticized on NW Planning Order

By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: June 25th, 2013

Federal regulators are under fire from a key U.S. senator and utility groups for rejecting a plan aimed at providing flexibility for Northwest utilities in allocating the costs of regional transmission projects.

Northwest utilities are concerned federal regulators don't support their regional approach to transmission. (Photo By: Bill Casey Photography)

Northwest utilities are concerned federal regulators don’t support their regional approach to transmission. (Photo By: Bill Casey Photography)

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said an order issued June 20 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission represents a threat to ratepayers in the region.

The decision is “a major step backward,” Wyden said.

The ruling came in a case involving FERC Order 1000, which deals with planning and allocating costs among participants for regional transmission projects. In a 166-page order, the commission said, in part, that the ColumbiaGrid transmission region failed to meet some of the requirements of Order 1000.

FERC also said Bonneville Power Administration, a member of ColumbiaGrid, was wrong to maintain it could decide whether to accept or reject the costs of new transmission facilities that the grid group allocated to it. BPA markets hydroelectric power to electric cooperatives in the Northwest.

“Order No. 1000 requires that cost allocation determinations under the regional cost allocation method be binding,” the commission said in a 3-1 decision.

Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council, said the decision could upset the way that utilities subject to and exempt from most FERC jurisdiction have worked together on transmission issues. The Portland, Ore.-based PPC represents co-ops and consumer-owned utilities.

“While FERC continues to talk about regional deference, this order runs counter to that principle, and counter to the interests of ratepayers in the Northwest,” Corwin said. “We have a strong concern that FERC is trying to force non-jurisdictional utilities into its preferred approach to planning and allocation of the costs of transmission, and away from a construct that has worked very well in the Northwest.”

In a dissent, FERC Commissioner Tony Clark said the order “runs afoul” of respect for regional differences and cautioned that BPA might decide to withdraw from the planning process.

“By failing to accommodate the region’s unique characteristics, this order may cause the region to fracture,” he said.

FERC asked for additional compliance information from parties in the case.

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