US Congressional Democrats push for progress on aggregated DERs

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US Congressional Democrats issued a stern call to action to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), calling for clarification on how aggregations of distributed energy resources (DERs) may participate in wholesale power markets.

This comes amidst increasing frustration in Washington over the lack of FERC action on multiple power sector issues.

Letters to the body issued on Monday noted a FERC-hosted technical conference on aggregated DERs in April 2018, but the agency is yet to issue a decision. The group urged regulators to adopt a decision “as soon as possible” that “enables all DERs the opportunity to participate in … wholesale markets.”

On the same day the technical conference was established, the FERC also directed regional grid operators to devise market rules for grid-scale energy storage. The agencies comment on proposals made are expected before 15 February, but the FERC area yet to rule on rehearing requests on that decision, known as Order 841.

May 2018 saw sixteen democratic senators issuing a letter to the late, and then-FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre, urging for guidance for grid operators on aggregated DERs.

In July, McIntyre had responded, saying the commission was “diligently reviewing the record,” but have not taken any further action subsequent to this.

However, “DER adoption and renewable energy aggregation have continued to grow,” House and Senate lawmakers wrote in their identical letters, “driven not only by state and federal policies, but consumer interest in choosing cost-competitive technologies such as rooftop solar, smart thermostats and customer-sited energy generation and storage.”

The legislators wrote that they felt “encouraged” by FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee’s comments in June 2018, noting that he “specifically cited the role DERs will play in our continued grid transition.”

During that speech at the S&P Global Platts 2018 Transmission Planning and Development Conference, Chatterjee noted “growing interest” in non-transmission alternatives, including “DERs and storage.”

“How the Commission treats filings associated with those first-of-kind projects could prove an important factor in investors’ assessments of whether similar non-traditional projects are bankable or not — and more broadly signal whether FERC is open to innovation in the transmission sector,” he said.

In addition to the DER order and rehearing decision on Order 841, the commission has multiple other initiatives in the power sector initiatives that have seen scant official action in months.

Biggest the highest profile example is the open proceeding on grid resilience, set up last January after the FERC rejected a coal and nuclear bailout strategy from the Department of Energy.

The CEO of the PJM Interconnection, the US’ largest wholesale power market, urged the FERC to issue a final order in October of 2018, calling for “leadership” from the commission.

Chatterjee has failed to indicate when the commission will decide on the case.

In December, Commissioner Rich Glick was quoted as saying he is “not entirely sure where the chairman wants to go with that proceeding yet.”

Beyond the issues surrounding grid resilience, the FERC also has open reviews of both its pipeline certificate policy and implementation of the Public Utilities REgulatory Policy Act, a key law supporting the renewable energy transition.

These reviews were both set in motion by McIntrye during his tenure as chairman, but following his death in January, the timing of both remains unclear.

Chatterjee has also delayed the commission’s votes on major export facilities for liquefied natural gas and a political spending case involving PJM after deadlocks between Republicans and Democrats on the FERC.

Two representatives from each party currently sit on the commission, allowing Democrats to deadlock commission votes.

As part of the final guidance on DER’s, federal jurisdiction is likely to be a key issue. The technical conference saw states from the Midcontinent ISO argue for the ability to decide whether to let aggregated DERs participate in retail and wholesale markets. Other states argued that reaching the full value proposition of distributed resources may rely on dual participation with federal authorities.

Inaction on the part of the FERC hasn’t stalled progress, with some grid operators moving forward with aggregated distributed resources.

Recently, a residential solar-plus-storage aggregation cleared the ISO-NE capacity auction for the first time, committing to provide 20 MW of capacity beginning in 2022.