I tend to keep an eye on issues that are a little off of the beaten path. One of those is wholesale market operations, which are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Ohio is a part of PJM, a regional transmission organization (RTO) that is approved by FERC. Thanks to the PJM market, the cost of wholesale electricity in Ohio has gone down, and actually, the cost of the electricity component of your utility bill has gone down as well. Unfortunately, other portions of your bill have increased and tend to offset the generation savings.
FERC plays a big role in all of this. Prior to and during the pandemic, the Trump Administration’s FERC tried to favor fossil fuel and nuclear generation over less expensive renewables like wind and solar, issuing a rule that effectively blocked states from subsidizing carbon-free technologies, including old nuclear plants. [See the story on HB 6.] In the two months since the Biden Administration took office, the Democrats have taken a majority of the seats on the five-person FERC, and modified the market rules, to reduce discrimination against renewables.
This brings us to the issue of how consumers can participate in the FERC process. Many years ago, then-Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) managed to pass legislation creating an Office of Public Participation at FERC. The hope was that have a ‘consumers’ counsel’ at FERC to represent the interests of residential and small commercial customers who are normally shut out of the process, which would allow a greater focus on prices paid by small customers and open up grid access for distributed energy resources like rooftop solar and larger renewable and distributed technologies.
However, the Office has never been funded. OPAE has been working to fund the Office for over a decade, viewing it as a key source of advocacy funding in the form of intervenor compensation, which would pay consumer groups to participate at FERC. This would give advocates an additional source of funding, one that is sorely lacking, to influence FERC decisions, decisions that have a major impact on the price customers pay and the type of generation that produces their power.
Climate change and affordability are the two critical issues facing consumers in Ohio and across the country. Ensuring that regional wholesale energy markets are designed to promote fair pricing and generation resources that do not produce carbon emissions is critical to everyone’s future. OPAE will continue to pursue funding for the Office of Public Participation and plans to be an active participant in the FERC workshops that will flesh out the office prior to funding.