McMorris Rodgers wants FERC details on power plant retirements, transmission plans

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), chair of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, joined a fellow committee colleague in questioning the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) about the increasing retirements of power plants across America and the impacts they have for the nation’s electric grid reliability. 

“Concern over resource retirements has persisted for years; but little to no action has been taken to slow further premature retirements or to create backstops to prevent resources from retiring,” wrote Rep. McMorris Rodgers and her colleague in a Dec. 29, 2023, letter sent to FERC commissioners.

And while FERC Commissioner Allison Clements has claimed that the commission has jurisdiction over reform to retirement planning, it’s unclear if FERC has used this authority to date, the lawmakers wrote. 

They also pointed out that multiple Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) and Independent System Operators (ISOs) have expressed concern that retirements are happening too quickly and that resources promoting reliability cannot be retained by any one single entity.

“The same RTOs/ISOs also feared needing to use emergency measures in section 202(c) of Federal Power Act to retain resources while expensive, stop-gap solutions to upgrade transmission are implemented,” according to the letter.

Current alternatives aren’t necessarily helping, added Rep. McMorris Rodgers and her GOP colleague, who wrote that regulatory, policy, and environmental pressures on fossil-based generation resources that provide 60 percent of the nation’s electricity further threaten the reliability and flexibility of the grid, and the variability of new resources like wind and solar mean that current markets may be unable to meet the energy and flexibility needs of the system.

“Because of these pressures, coupled with projections of electric demand growth, we are concerned about the reliability of the bulk-power system and the actions the commission is taking or considering taking to ensure that it fulfills its mission,” they wrote.  

Toward ensuring that FERC is fulfilling its mission, providing regulatory certainty, maintaining reliability, and providing electric generators with the ability to earn necessary revenues, the lawmakers asked FERC commissioners to answer several questions, including whether the current retirements are orderly, and if retirement process timelines should more closely align with timelines for entry in the capacity market.

They also asked whether FERC should explore additional markets, such as capacity markets that procure reliability services on a forward basis, and what actions the commission is considering taking under its jurisdiction over retirement planning.