Neil Chatterjee, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, on March 19 detailed steps that the Commission is taking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic including naming a FERC point of contact for all industry inquiries related to impacts of COVID-19 on their FERC-jurisdictional activities.
Chatterjee noted that FERC on March 13 voted to cancel its March open meeting scheduled for March 19 “as one of a number of steps FERC is taking to protect the health and safety of our employees and the public, and to help mitigate or slow the transmission of the coronavirus within our communities. We are committed to doing our part to flatten the curve.”
The Commission is operating and will continue to fulfill all statutory obligations, he noted in a public message posted on FERC’s website. FERC offices in Washington, DC, are closed to the public and minimal staff are on site. All Commission employees are authorized to telework and are available via email and phone. Staff are teleconferencing and are canceling or postponing in-person meetings.
FERC on March 19 announced a number of pandemic response efforts.
FERC’s Office of the Secretary has issued a notice for extension of time to provide more flexibility on deadlines for certain required filings that are due on or before May 1, 2020. Those filings include non-statutory items required by the Commission such as compliance filings and responses to deficiency letters, and rulemaking comments, as well as forms required by the Commission, except for FERC Form No. 6. The deadline extension also will apply to filings required by entities’ tariffs or rate schedules.
The Secretary’s Notice also indicates that entities may seek extensions for other deadlines and may seek waiver of Commission orders, regulations, tariffs and rate schedules, as appropriate, and that the Commission will act expeditiously on those other requests.
In addition, FERC’s Office of Enforcement is postponing all previously scheduled audit site visits and investigative testimony. The Commission said it is actively exploring other ways it can lift burdens on the regulated community and will adjust other deadlines as appropriate. The Office of Enforcement will also act expeditiously in granting extensions and waivers of compliance filings, forms and EQRs, as appropriate. The Commission said it is committed to ensuring that industry can focus on continuity, safety and stability-- not regulatory or enforcement matters that are not mission-critical during this crisis.
Also, technical conferences scheduled through May 2020 will be conducted via conference call or WebEx, or postponed. Schedules will be posted to the FERC.gov calendar.
FERC Chief Administrative Law Judge Carmen Cintron has postponed one hearing scheduled to start April 7 and will make case-specific calls on other hearings as their start dates approach. ALJ settlement conferences will continue via conference call.
Meanwhile, on March 18, FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) announced that they were taking steps to ensure that operators of the bulk electric system can focus their resources on keeping people safe and the lights on during the unprecedented public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chatterjee names point of contact for COVID-19
Chatterjee on March 19 named Caroline Wozniak as the Commission’s point of contact for all industry inquiries related to impacts of COVID-19 on their FERC-jurisdictional activities.
She currently serves as the Senior Policy Advisor in FERC’s Office of Energy Market Regulation and plays a leadership role in matters involving energy markets, tariffs and rates relating to electric, natural gas, and oil pipeline facilities and services.
Prior to assuming that role, Wozniak served as an advisor to former Chairman Norman Bay from 2015 to 2016. She joined FERC in 2008 as an analyst in the Office of Energy Policy and Innovation.
FERC said that members of the regulated community can email PandemicLiaison@ferc.gov to receive prompt responses to their questions from Commission staff.
FERC working closely with federal partners and others
FERC is also working closely with federal partners such as the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control and others to proactively identify and address issues affecting energy infrastructure from this emergency.
FERC continues to assist with NERC’s Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC) to provide recommendations to industry to help with business continuity planning.
Glick and McNamee issue statements
FERC Commissioners Bernard McNamee and Richard Glick on March 19 issued statements that addressed COVID-19.
McNamee said that “As the nation and the world struggle with the effects of COVID-19, the work of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission continues.” He said that “it is important to acknowledge all of the energy providers across the nation that are keeping hospitals and essential businesses operating, transportation moving, and providing our homes with the comfort of heat and light—not to mention energy to charge our cell phones and power our internet connections.”
Glick noted that FERC is working closely with NERC, the ESCC and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to help keep the lights on.
He expressed hope that the Commission “proceeds judiciously over the next several months on orders that are not statutorily mandated.”
Glick noted that the Federal Power Act and the Natural Gas Act require parties to seek rehearing of orders within 30 days of the date FERC issues that order.
“The Commission has no flexibility to waive this 30-day requirement. To the extent Commission action is not statutorily required or needed in the short-term, I believe we should refrain from acting to allow parties who are otherwise dealing with the pandemic to avoid putting resources toward seeking rehearing of a Commission order. In that same spirit, I want to commend the Chairman for taking action to extend deadlines where the Commission has the flexibility during this difficult period,” wrote Glick.
In response to a reporter’s question, Chatterjee said that FERC “has to continue to respond to” filings submitted by the energy sector.
“Many of the Commission’s actions are increasing regulatory certainty to stakeholders,” he noted. “We’re not imposing additional burdens. Yes, there are statutory deadlines on requests for rehearing and on requesting an appeal, but the energy bar should largely be able to telework as is most of the Commission.”
Chatterjee said that FERC “pausing action right now would not be good for the economy and the last thing that industry needs right now is delays.”
The FERC Chairman at a later point noted that he has heard concerns from some utilities “about having the sufficient number of people onsite, different construction projects that are ongoing that require people to be together. Utility workers, who really provide an essential service, how they will be characterized as the country looks to keep the population safe.”
He noted that “some of this is within the Commission’s jurisdiction, some of it is not. But, again, we will continue to work with our federal government partners, our state government partners, the regulated community and the public to make sure that we all work collectively to stay ahead of this.”
Chatterjee also noted that FERC is in contact with state commissioners across the U.S., as well as governors’ offices and congressional leaders.