Senate finally fills needed seats for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

REUTERS/Nick Oxford

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been without a quorum for over six months, missing four members out of its five-seat panel.

Naturally, the agency has been ineffective this whole time, and a backlog of energy ventures with a potential value of $50 billion dollars has been waiting to be approved.

On Thursday, the nominees Robert Powelson and Neil Chatterjee were confirmed by the Senate. Powelson was the chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and Chatterjee was a senior aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The duo joins Cheryl LaFleur, who has been the lone FERC commissioner for the past six months and is the current chairman of the committee.

Projects like the Nexus pipeline have been waiting for approval from FERC to begin construction. The project, developed by DTE Energy Company and Enbridge Inc.’s Spectra Energy, was originally supposed to start flowing gas from Ohio to Ontario this November, but once FERC approves the project, there will still be at least 10 months of construction to complete before any gas gets moved.

FERC now has the quorum needed to approve liquefied natural gas export terminals and pipelines, approve new hydropower plants, rule on contested utility mergers, or finalize settlement agreements in market-manipulation cases. However, permits and approvals for these projects can still take an average of 30 days.

The Nexus project isn’t the only pipeline waiting for approval; there are at least five more natural gas pipelines waiting for FERC approval. These projects are estimated to be worth $10 billion.

Dominion Energy Inc. has two projects waiting in line, the $4.5 billion Atlantic Coast pipeline and the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley pipeline. These pipelines have the potential to deliver enough gas to heat 62,000 homes. Both pipelines will be operated by EQT Corporation. Dominion wants to start building the projects this year to avoid environmental regulations protecting bird migration and animal roosting that are scheduled to begin in the spring of 2018.

The $1 billion PennEast Pipeline is also waiting to get approval in order to begin construction in 2018, and the TransCanada Corporation also has pipelines waiting in the works, the Mountaineer Xpress and the Gulf Xpress pipelines, which are worth $2 billion combined.

“We aren’t counting our chickens yet, but the approvals would certainly be a net positive for midstream industry growth, and, ultimately, for producers and consumers of natural gas,” commented Ethan Bellamy on the Senate’s FERC confirmations. Bellamy is a managing director at Robert W. Baird & Co. in Denver.

FERC’s five-seat panel is still short two seats, and the remaining two nominees are scheduled to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on September 7. President Donald Trump is nominating Kevin McIntyre to become the new Republican chairman of FERC, replacing the Democrat, LaFleur. Richard Glick, a senior senate staffer and Democrat, is nominated for the last seat on the panel.

Article written by HEI contributor Raymond Arrasmith.

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