One thing has become clear from the various comments submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on the Southeast Energy Exchange Market or SEEM: there is a strong desire for FERC to host a technical conference on the potential for market reforms in the Southeast. Here we’ll break it down for you to give you an idea of who made these suggestions and what a technical conference is. Read all of our blog posts on SEEM.
What’s a technical FERC conference?
So what is a technical conference? Well, it’s an event open to the public and designed to convene experts on a particular topic relevant to FERC’s work. It can be as short as a few hours or take 1-2 days, and these days they are all virtual whereas pre-COVID they were typically in-person events that were live-streamed for remote viewing. Technical conferences typically feature one or more panelists of experts from system operators, utilities, regulatory bodies, and other organizations; these panels are sometimes directly led by FERC Commissioners. There are already many FERC technical conferences scheduled in 2021, including one on the formation of an Office of Public Participation on April 16, 2021, and a two-day conference on climate change and extreme weather on June 1-2, 2021.
Who wants a technical conference?
So who is asking for a technical conference on market issues in the Southeast, and why? There have been a number of initiatives to explore all or parts of the Southeast moving from a vertically integrated monopoly electric utility model to one that includes some level of competition. Studies have shown that competition could open the door to clean energy and customer savings in the Southeast. A FERC technical conference could push regulators, policymakers, and utilities to coordinate efforts to move the region to a more competitive model, as well as show just how much the region could serve to benefit.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of individuals and organizations that have requested a technical conference on this issue.
- South Carolina Senator Tom Davis and South Carolina Representative Nathan Ballentine both wrote letters requesting a technical conference.
- Public Interest Organizations submitted joint comments that included a request for a technical conference. Those organizations are: Energy Alabama, Sierra Club, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, GASP, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Southface Energy Institute, Inc., Vote Solar, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, Georgia Conservation Voters, Partnership for Southern Equity, North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, Sustainable FERC Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
- Clean Energy Coalition, consisting of: Advanced Energy Economy, the Advanced Energy Buyers Group, Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, and Solar Energy Industries Association, also submitted joint comments requesting a technical conference.
- Southern Renewable Energy Association submitted comments indicating the role a technical conference could have to review market reform options with Southeast state regulators.
- Think tank R Street stated in comments that a technical conference “would provide stakeholders and FERC an opportunity to discuss what changes are needed and how best to generate benefits for customers throughout the region.“
Additionally, comments from the American Forest & Paper Association stated that “further analysis should be conducted to determine if greater benefits would be achieved by a Southeast Regional Transmission Organization or Southeast Energy Imbalance Market.” While not calling for a technical conference, the RTO and EIM options could be explored through a technical conference.
Who doesn’t want a technical conference and why not?
How have SEEM utilities responded to the request for a technical conference? In a response filed on March 30, SEEM utilities rejected the idea of a technical conference. The response indicates that a technical conference to explore how the region could move to a more competitive model would be too much too fast, and “that previous attempts to develop an RTO in the Southeast have not been successful.”
The response also indicates that SEEM utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) cannot be pushed into an RTO. Without TVA half of the load would not be able to participate because of TVA’s position in the middle of the proposed SEEM footprint. So if FERC holds a technical conference TVA may get spooked and pull out of SEEM, taking away the connection to SEEM members in Kentucky and Missouri? That seems unlikely, but I guess in the Southeast when it comes to market reform, you just never know what will (or won’t) happen.