US Senate committee could vote next week on FERC nominees

The US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources could vote May 23 on the nominations of Texas' Pat Wood and Pennsylvania's Nora Mead Brownell to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The Republican state utility commissioners were nominated by President George W. Bush in late March. If approved by the committee and confirmed by the full senate, Wood and Brownell will fill two vacancies.


By the OGJ Online Staff

HOUSTON, May 16 -- The US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources could vote May 23 on the nominations of Texas' Pat Wood and Pennsylvania's Nora Mead Brownell to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Committee members interviewed Wood, chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission, and Brownell, a member of the Pennsylvania Utility Commission and chairman of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, Wednesday.

The Republican state utility commissioners were nominated by President George W. Bush in late March. The commission, which has come under heavy fire from Democrats for its handling of the electric power crisis in California, is currently operating short two members. If approved by the committee and confirmed by the full senate, Wood and Brownell will fill the vacancies.

Committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), one of the administration's severest critics for its opposition to electricity price caps in California, said she was "encouraged" by the nominees' testimony that the electricity markets aren't presently transparent. Congressional staff members indicated she will support Wood's and Brownell's nominations.

Feinstein also said after the meeting it was her understanding committee chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.) now seems amenable to a California emergency energy bill. The US House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality last week approved emergency legislation sponsored by its chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.).

Wood's testimony came 1 day after an industry organization put Texas on a "watch" list while the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) makes the transition to control by single independent grid operator from control by local utilities. Startup of the state's retail competition pilot program has been delayed a month.

Wood did not mention the delay in prepared remarks, but he said a "potential blemish" in Texas is the insufficient number of retailers who have announced plans to serve customers in the nonERCOT region of Texas. Because of its limited ties to other states, ERCOT is not subject to FERC jurisdiction. In other parts of Texas, wholesale electric jurisdiction is under FERC.

Wood said under his leadership the state's policies on streamlined generation siting, regional transmission planning, expedited transmission licensing, transmission cost responsibility, and retail cost recovery have stimulated investment in new clean power plants and transmission projects.

"Our market based approaches toward distributed generation, renewable energy, demand-side bidding, and conservation have garnered significant attention," he said.

Pointing to the recent problems with pipeline constraints in some regional market, Wood said he applauded FERC's approach to overcoming a lag in construction of infrastructure. "There is simply no substitute for investment in pipelines, in transmission lines, in power supplies, and in demand-side management," he said. "The energy industry is the heart of our economy and should not be immune from the benefits that new technology and market forces have unleashed in the telecommunications industry."

Calling herself a "believer in free markets," Brownell said Pennsylvania is beginning to reap the benefits of electricity competition. She said more than 750,000 customers are purchasing power from a competitive supplier and more than 20,000 Mw of new generation is expected to come on line in the next 4 years, including 84 Mw of wind power.

"New fossil generation will not and should not solve all our energy problems," she said. In Pennsylvania, more than 10% of customers who shopped for power signed up with a green energy supplier. As a FERC commissioner, Brownell said she would continue to support development of sustainable energy in addition to programs that promote new technology.

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