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.