The renewables industry has a “really important game-changing opportunity,” said Commissioner Allison Clements with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), at a forum held by the trade group ACORE. Yet aligning the federal regulatory framework “with what’s happening in the world” is part of a “really difficult, complex puzzle that has to get solved.”
Clements said that while FERC is a technology-neutral economic regulator, “cheaper resources, opportunities for increased reliability—those things all line up with the opportunity for the energy transition.”
Now that FERC has issued the interconnection rule known as Order 2023, the “low-cost easy changes” should be implemented first, Clements said, mentioning grid-enhancing technologies but not advanced conductors.
After that, “the most important thing” FERC can do is finalize the regional transmission system planning rule that the commission proposed last year, and “align our interconnection process with our regional planning process,” Clements said. Doing so would provide “a chance at moving system planning out from under this ill-suited interconnection process, where this planning is, de facto, taking place.”
Next, Clements advised “thinking about” harmonizing interconnection processes with state solicitations in states “where that is relevant.”
“Another thing to do,” she said, is to facilitate “a focused interconnection process.” There has been experience with this in Europe and in Texas, she said, “where you think about getting resources hooked up for energy-only service, and then think about what to do after that.” That process is known as connect and manage.
At last month’s RE+ conference in Las Vegas, Melissa Alfano, director of energy markets and counsel for the solar trade group SEIA, said that many of that group’s members had expressed interest in connect and manage.
After facilitating connect and manage, Clements said “we still need interregional connection; the winter storms tell us that over and over again.”
“And finally, there’s market development” in the West and Southeast, Clements said, noting she is “pleased” to see progress on market development in the West, where regulators with “wildly diverse policy interests” are “really listening” to each other. Clements predicted success for that effort, saying “the dominoes are going to fall.”
“With all that, we can go out and have a beer,” Clements remarked. Still, she said, “there are so many policy makers, decision makers, members of industry, investors, who are going to be required to come together to make progress.”
Responding to a question from ACORE President and CEO Gregory Wetstone about how that organization can be most effective, Clements pointed to a proposed offshore grid off New England. When the New England states “bake it outside of the commission and bring it to us, that’s really helpful,” she said, as it helps the commission “understand that there’s a broad alignment there.” ACORE, Clements said, has “played an important role” in that process.
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