In an ideal world, legislation would have already happened."
That was Elizabeth Moler, deputy secretary of energy, testifying as the first witness at a Feb. 20 public conference at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The forum attempted to address how to ensure access to transmission as the electric industry builds a new framework to maintain system reliability.
Having just stepped down from the top spot at the FERC, Moler knew what to expect. She understood the limits of the FERC's statutory authority and its budget.
"I came early," quipped Moler, "to find out where my seat would be."
Yet, even she found it difficult to influence the process.
When the commission in early January invited electric executives to come to Washington to discuss how to integrate transmission service with reliability rules, it had asked for "expressions of interest" and had promised a "free-flowing discussion." It got its wish. One prominent industry group likened the process to "a tiger changing its spots or a scorpion its nature." With expressions like that, who needs free flow?
That some comments strained civility only highlighted the fact that the FERC itself was pushing the envelope. Technically speaking, the commission has jurisdiction only over public utilities and transmission service. It lacks clear authority over system reliability rules. That job falls to the North American Electric Reliability Council, though many see its power as illegitimate, perhaps violating antitrust law. Congress could break the impasse, but has dallied. Meanwhile, marketers and other transmission-dependent power suppliers charge that the regional reliability councils discriminate in the way that they enforce procedures for line-loading relief.
As Commissioner William Massey noted, "Every reliability rule, without exception, has a commercial impact. We're not going to be able to avoid it."
And so the FERC, which does have authority over rates, tariffs and terms of service for electric transmission, decided it could no longer wait for Congress, NERC or the Clinton Administration. It has thrown itself fully into the "conundrum of reliability," as one trade association put it.
But the FERC must act quickly if it intends to help transmission-dependent marketers this summer.
Commissioner Vicky Bailey, assigned to run the meeting by FERC Chairman James Hoecker, pleaded: "What we're hearing are global solutions, but we don't have time. I was looking for a bridging mechanism that would get us through this next peaking season."
A Matter of Resources
Few in the electric industry dispute that reliability rules affect electric transmission service. But should they be incorporated in the open-access transmission tariffs already filed by utilities under FERC Order 888? The Electric Power Supply Association raised the issue in its filed comments:
"Many reliability rules directly affect transactions subject to the FERC's exclusive jurisdiction, for example, with respect to scheduling of transmission services, line loading, curtailment of service¼ Such requirements must be seen as effectively amending filed rate schedules (i.e., Order 888 compliance tariffs) without any filing or public notice. This contravenes both the Federal Power Act and the commission's rules of practice and procedure."
As Julie Simon, policy director at EPSA, added: "Many of the