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One on One with new FERC Chairman

Neil Chatterjee expects key ruling this month

In August, Kentucky native Neil Chatterjee became chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The former energy policy advisor to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is well-versed in issues related to electric cooperatives and previously worked as a principal in Government Relations for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, among other roles in Washington, D.C.

What is FERC?

Q. Kentucky Living: Congratulations on your appointment. What are your goals as FERC chairman?

Thanks! During my tenure at FERC, some of my main priorities will be promoting electric grid reliability, strengthening the grid’s resilience, and doing my part to help protect our grid from cybersecurity threats. Another key focus of mine will be finding ways for FERC to improve its permitting processes for dams and natural gas pipelines—without compromising, of course, our core values of safety and environmental protection. And finally, I will be looking at how the Commission can better ensure that utilities have the right incentives to invest in electric transmission as we build out the electric grid for the 21st century.

Q. Kentucky Living: What factors are important as you consider the proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry for FERC to enact new rules so that coal and nuclear plants would be fully compensated for the reliability and resiliency they provide the power grid?

In sending FERC the proposal, Secretary Perry has initiated a very important conversation, and I commend him for doing so. As I work with my fellow commissioners in considering the proposal and determining next steps, I believe it’s crucial that we evaluate the long-term effects of closing coal and nuclear plants, because once those facilities are gone, they are gone forever.

As part of that analysis, we should examine whether coal and nuclear generating facilities have essential attributes that are not being properly compensated in current market structures. I want to underscore that this is not a new task for FERC: over the years, FERC has continually worked to refine market structures to ensure that the markets are providing the right incentives to ensure that the nation’s electric grid remains the most reliable in the world. Ultimately, we don’t want to find ourselves 20 years from now grappling with remorse over why we didn’t ask the sort of hard questions Secretary Perry has raised.

Q. Kentucky Living: As you know, the mission of Kentucky’s electric cooperatives is safe, reliable and affordable electricity. How would these new rules affect that mission?

They are inextricably linked. The Department of Energy’s proposal is entirely consistent with FERC’s statutory obligation to ensure just and reasonable electric rates and to protect the reliability of the electric grid. That statutory obligation is aligned with Kentucky co-ops’—and the broader energy industry’s—goals of maintaining access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity. That mission is one I fully support. I worked toward it while serving as a staffer for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.  And it was a message I first internalized as a high school student when my then-girlfriend and now wife’s grandfather Robert Anderson Sowders—who spent 41 years with KAEC—introduced me to electric cooperatives and the concepts surrounding the generation and distribution of electricity. He passed away in 2015, but I keep his KAEC paperweight in my office to remind me every day of the lessons he taught me about the significance of rural electrification.

Q. Kentucky Living: What should electric co-ops be watching for in the next year from FERC?

Now that FERC has restored its quorum, the commissioners and our professional and highly skilled staff are nearing the end of working through the six-month backlog of work. I would be remiss not to mention the tremendous efforts by Commissioner (Cheryl) LaFleur and the entire staff to ensure the Commission could hit the ground running once the quorum was restored. As we’ve worked through the backlog, FERC has also continued to move forward on new incoming energy market and project proposals in addition to the DOE proposal. As you can see, we receive numerous requests on a daily basis, and my colleagues and I are eager to tackle the various matters that come before us. It’s an exciting time at FERC, and now that the quorum has been restored, I look forward to seeing what we are able to accomplish on behalf of the American people.

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