Open Access: A Conversation with New FERC Commissioner Rob Powelson

Open Access:  A Conversation with New FERC Commissioner Rob Powelson

Craig Cano: Welcome to FERC’s Open Access
podcast series, I’m Craig Cano. Our guest today is Commissioner Robert Powelson
who was confirmed by the Senate on August 4 to a term that ends in June 2020. Commissioner, welcome to the podcast. Commissioner Robert Powelson: Craig great
to be with you. Craig Cano: It’s been a week since you were
sworn in. How are you settling in? Robert Powelson: Well I must say the first
week was certainly drinking from the fire hose, but I would like to take this opportunity
to thank my fellow FERC-ians for their warm outreach and hospitality and professionalism
in kind of getting me grounded in some of the FERC protocols and getting me up to speed
on some of the pressing issues. And I’m proud to report within a week’s
time, we’ve gotten some orders out the door. So FERC, as I like to say, is back in business. Craig Cano: You mentioned the workload and
that progress is being made, how are you doing with it overall? Robert Powelson: Well I certainly think it’s
a work in progress. I will say I think in terms of priorities
working with Chairman Chatterjee and Commissioner LaFleur, who I’ve worked with – and let
me just say we owe her a debt of a gratitude for her leadership. She someone I’ve worked with as a state
Commissioner for my nine years in Pennsylvania. She is someone who cares very deeply about
the state government relations and the state public utility commissions, and I’m honored
to serve with her. In terms of this whole issue of the backlog
and realizing we haven’t had a quorum since February, I think there’s no more pressing
issue to demonstrate to the publics that we regulate and consumers across America that
we are doing our work and working with our professional staff here at the FERC to get
these orders out the door. I like to tell people over 1,500 cases per
year come through the FERC with close to $500 billion of infrastructure spend, so a lot
of these projects have been on hold, a lot of these projects have gone through tremendous
rigor and review processes. And now with the quorum restored were getting
back up and running and making decisions around some of these big infrastructure cases right
now. Craig Cano: Can you tell us a little bit about
what your priorities as a Commissioner will be. Robert Powelson: I think first and foremost
a lot of my priorities are shaped in my nine years in Pennsylvania and serving as chairman
of the commission — one of the larger commissions in the country – and, more recently, my
experience as the president of NARUC. So priorities for me really start with the
work that’s already being done in our Office of Energy Infrastructure Security with Joe
McClelland, who basically had adopted Pennsylvania for some cyber training. I think cybersecurity is going to be a pressing
issue not only for states, but the work that were doing with our cohorts in the federal
government. So cybersecurity is going to be a pressing
issue. You heard me mention earlier this whole issue
of infrastructure and how do we grapple with the need to get natural resources whether
they’re hydro, they’re natural gas related, or oil pipelines. Getting infrastructure sited and doing it
with the steadfast commitment to the environmental compact. And electric and gas safety and reliability
are so critically important to that as well. So I think the FERC will certainly not be
lacking issues. I am excited by the challenge that lies ahead,
and more importantly I think that it’s a great opportunity to really showcase the Pennsylvania
experience, which is one that I’m very proud of when we talk about things like cybersecurity,
electric and gas safety. This is something that’s kind of embedded
in my DNA as I approach some of these cases that lie in front of me. Craig Cano: As you mentioned you were state
regulator at the Pennsylvania commission for almost a decade. How will that experience inform your work
here at FERC, and do you expect things to be different? Robert Powelson: That’s a great question. I start with the fact that, and I said this
my first week into the job, a lot of the apparatus here, believe it or not, is very similar to
my role back in Pennsylvania. Looking at things like setting ROEs, citing
infrastructure; dealing with things like electric and gas safety, cybersecurity. These are all issues that I’d been versed
in in working with my colleagues back in Pennsylvania on but obviously, as I like to remind people,
I’m coming from the minor leagues, if I can use a baseball analogy, as a suffering Philadelphia
Phillies fan. I’m coming from the minor leagues, or the
bottom of the NL East here, and this is the major leagues. In these projects, as I mentioned earlier,
this agency touches about $500 billion of infrastructure spending. But as I approach my decision-making in working
with our key leadership here is again looking at things like need, looking at local community
inputs, looking at safety. These are all things that are kind of ingrained
in my DNA and when I make a decision around a piece of infrastructure or set an ROE or
look at a tariff infrastructure. Or, by the way, we do – both my former agency
and this agency – have an investigation and enforcement unit. And that’s a critically important function
because we have to have functioning markets and we have to, as I like to say back in Pennsylvania,
you can drive 80 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, that’s why we have state troopers. So the work that’s being done here on enforcement
is so critically important to the markets. Craig Cano: As part of your work in the states,
you spent the last almost a year, I think as chairman of NARUC – I’m sorry, as President
of NARUC. Robert Powelson: I’ll take that promotion,
by the way. Craig Cano: Could you tell us a little bit
about your view of the relationship between FERC and the state commissions. Robert Powelson: Well it is one embedded in
a lot of good history. A strong working relationship. I think if you look back over the history
of FERC commissioners, Commissioner Honorable, Commissioner Clark, Chairman Wood these are
all individuals that have served this agency with distinction in one leadership role or
another, and it all started with their state experience. So the work that NARUC does with the FERC,
I’ll use the example of electric/gas coordination, cybersecurity. These are all issues that the NARUC state
leadership is looking for a collaborative working relationship with the FERC. I go back to the work that Chairman LaFleur,
Chairman Bay, Chairman Wellinghoff these are all individuals that did that outreach, how
important it is. Because state regulators don’t like top-down
approaches from Washington. They want to listen to what’s going on inside
the Beltway, but as I like to remind people there a lot of innovative things happening
in state capitals and we have to be respectful of that. We have to be cognizant of states’ rights. But we also, to our side of the ledger, we
have a legal compact and that’s the Federal Power Act and Natural Gas Act, and applying
rule of law questions to those big issues is critically important. So I think the dialogue is so important. Continuing it, being active at NARUC conferences. We used to do things like the old Sunday morning
FERC church sessions. We had the Chairman of the FERC at our meetings
and many of the Commissioners participate in a number of the different panel discussions. That’s all going to continue with the new
leadership here, and I think it’s good for that outreach to state PUCs to have access
to the FERC technical staff and FERC Commissioners. Craig Cano: Commissioner Powelson we appreciate
your time. Thank you very much for stopping by Open Access. Robert Powelson: Craig, it’s great to be
with you and I look forward to working with you here over the next few years. Thank you. Craig Cano: FERC is an independent regulatory
agency that oversees the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil; review
of proposals to build interstate natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals;
and licensing of nonfederal hydropower projects. FERC protects the reliability of the high-voltage
interstate transmission system through mandatory reliability standards and it monitors interstate
energy markets to ensure that everyone in those markets is playing by the rules. Unless otherwise noted, the views expressed
on these podcasts are personal views and do not necessarily express the views of individual
Commissioners or of the Commission as a whole. This podcast is a production of the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission Office of External Affairs, Leonard Tao, director. We will be updating our posts when we’ve
got news, so be sure to check out our website, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter
and LinkedIn to find out when our next podcast airs.

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