Feds Reject Bid For Public Access To Regional Meetings On Energy Grid Reforms

Apr 11, 2019

An energy trade publication, RTO Insider, had argued the New England Power Pool, or NEPOOL, is violating the Federal Power Act with its closed-door meeting policy.
Credit State Impact

An effort to force the region's powerful energy stakeholder group to hold public meetings has been shot down by federal regulators.

An energy trade publication, RTO Insider, had argued the New England Power Pool, or NEPOOL, is violating the Federal Power Act with its closed-door meeting policy.

NEPOOL is the decades-old stakeholder advisory board to the nonprofit regional grid operator, ISO-New England. They asked for the trade publication’s complaint to be dismissed – arguing private meetings enable more candid discussion of electric market reforms and proposals.

On Wednesday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, sided with NEPOOL – saying they can’t control the group’s public meetings policy, because it doesn’t directly affect the votes that NEPOOL members take on electric rate proposals for FERC’s review.

“As nonmembers, the press and public could not vote on such proposals or speak in support or against such proposals even if they were to attend NEPOOL meetings,” the commission wrote. “Therefore, rules governing only attendance at NEPOOL meetings do not directly affect the filings brought before the Commission in the way that membership rules that allow members to vote do.”

Still, New Hampshire’s residential utility ratepayer advocate, Don Kreis – a former journalist who sided with RTO Insider in the FERC complaint – says media coverage of the meetings would help inform the votes of NEPOOL members like him.

“It’s an issue of how vigilant is the FERC really going to be in overseeing what really matters about our regional electricity grid and how expensive it is,” Kreis says.

One FERC commissioner agreed with that, saying the rules that the commission says mean they lack jurisdiction in the case “are misguided.”

“Rather than trying to hide their discussions from the public, NEPOOL and its members would be better served by permitting public and press attendance, so that all entities—including those that cannot spend the time or money needed to attend all NEPOOL meetings—can remain informed of the discussions regarding the important issues under NEPOOL’s purview,” said commissioner Richard Glick in a separate opinion. “That result would lead to a more robust discussion of the issues and, ultimately, to better public policy.”

Any change in law to give FERC more control over NEPOOL’s media policy would likely require an act of Congress.

"It's an issue of how vigilant is the FERC really going to be in overseeing what really matters about our regional electricity grid and how expensive it is." - Don Kreis, N.H. Ratepayer Advocate

In a separate recent opinion, FERC did say an RTO Insider journalist – Michael Kuser, who has standing as a ratepayer in Vermont – could pay to join NEPOOL.

But under the group’s existing gag rule, Kuser still couldn’t publicly report on meetings.

In a statement, RTO Insider editor Rich Heidorn Jr. calls that policy “draconian” but says his publication will still take steps to get Kuser into NEPOOL meetings.

Contrary to what he calls NEPOOL’s “false and unwarranted concerns,” he says members of regional energy grid stakeholder groups elsewhere in the country “have continued to provide frank input into grid policies with RTO Insider reporters in the room covering their sessions.”

“We are evaluating the ruling and have not yet decided whether to seek rehearing and ultimately a court appeal,” Heidorn says.