May 6, 2023 - The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has held a hearing to conduct oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). During the hearing, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Committee, asked witnesses about the future of coal in the U.S. electric grid, the need to consider reliability when bringing new energy sources onto the grid, the pace of FERC decision making and the need for comprehensive, bipartisan energy permitting reform that includes transmission. The hearing featured all four FERC Commissioners: Chairman Willie L. Phillips, Commissioner James Danly, Commissioner Allison Clements and Commissioner Mark C. Christie.
Chairman Manchin asked all four commissioners about the ongoing need for coal in America’s energy mix.
“In today’s world, do any of you believe that it’s possible to eliminate coal today or in the near future, and still be able to maintain a somewhat reliable system? Is coal intricately irreplaceable at this point in time?” asked Chairman Manchin.
“We’ve talked about this before. I believe in an all-of-the-above approach. Whatever resources are needed to keep our grid reliable; we have to make sure they are available,” said FERC Chair Willie L. Phillips.
“If you pulled it [coal] off right now, would it give you the certainty that the system would give you the reliability needed?” asked Chairman Manchin.
“It would not,” replied FERC Chair Phillips.
“No, as things stand coal is required. It makes up just under a quarter of all the installed capacity in America and it would be impossible, given the locations and the realities of the electricity system, to replace it,” said Commissioner James Danly.
“Right now, today, no,” said Commissioner Allison Clements.
“Coal is more dependable than gas and yes, we need to keep coal generation available for the foreseeable future,” said Commissioner Mark C. Christie.
Chairman Manchin continued, “Coming from the coal fields and seeing all the sacrifices that have been made to provide the energy the country needed, there’s a transition going on. The only thing I’m trying to make a point about is the expedience that this administration and other administrations have tried to move the market or move their source of energy before we had anything to replace it with. All you have to do is go talk to the Europeans, they’ll tell you please don’t do what we did.”
Chairman Manchin also spoke about the need for bipartisan energy permitting reform.
“Last summer, I secured a commitment from the President and Democratic leadership that we’d get long overdue energy permitting reform done. That led to a bill which 40 Democrats and 7 Republicans voted for in December, and which I re-introduced earlier this week to kick-start permitting work in the Senate again this year. I’m glad to have led the charge getting the ball rolling last year, and while we should have gotten it done then, I believe we have another chance this year. So, I’m glad the Ranking Members have introduced a Senate Republican proposal today. And I hope that we will now be able to begin a conversation that will lead to enacting a bipartisan law,” said Chairman Manchin.
Over the past two years, two major storms, Winter Storm Elliott and Winter Storm Uri have affected grid reliability and, during Winter Storm Elliott, more than 1.5 million Americans lost power.
“Coal power plants saw significantly fewer outages than natural gas plants. The grid would have been absolutely decimated during these storms if our coal fleet was retired prematurely. Yet EPA and ESG investors are on a crusade to shut down every one of these coal plants, whether the grid is ready for it or not. Whether it’s EPA’s Effluent Limitation Guidelines, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Interstate Ozone Transport Rule, power plant CO2 regulations, or others—the potential reliability impacts of these combined regulations are staggering. The only way to transition without sacrificing reliability and affordability is with policies that spur innovation, not elimination, so we can use all of our energy resources in the cleanest way possible. It makes no sense at all to take tools out of the toolbox. No energy resource is immune to weather disruptions, whether that be frozen wind turbines, frozen gas wells, or frozen coal stockpiles – all of which we saw in recent winters,” said Chairman Manchin.
Chairman Manchin also noted that FERC has begun making decisions at a better pace compared to previous years.
“FERC approved more natural gas infrastructure in just the last four months than in each of the prior two years. Furthermore, FERC appears to be easing off the policy that most natural gas projects require a full environmental impact statement (EIS) instead of the more abbreviated environmental assessment (EA). This course correction has the potential to cut review times in half without cutting corners. However, despite these improvements, there is still a large shadow of uncertainty over whether FERC will revert to its ill- conceived natural gas and greenhouse gas policy statements issued early last year,” said Chairman Manchin.
Chairman Manchin also spoke about the need to include transmission in energy permitting reform.
“Speaking about transmission, that was our greatest challenge we had in negotiating our permitting bill. It’s something that we have to overcome, but it was taken to note that if a state, such as mine who is a net exporter of power, and a powerline has to come through to service the East or West coast, there should not be any cost allocations to a state that is a net exporter. We thought we worked through all that but that is one of the greatest challenges. You all are going to be very much involved in this whole process as we go through permitting. The House gave us a piece of legislation with no transmission in it. Any bill is not going to happen without transmission, same as pipelines, everything. It’s all needed,” said Chairman Manchin.
To watch the hearing in full, please click here.
To watch a video of Chairman Manchin’s opening remarks, please click here.
To watch a video of Chairman Manchin’s questioning, please click here.