Commissioner’s Corner
June 22, 2024
Commissioner Tony O'Donnell
Montana Public Service Commission

At a press conference on August 12th, 1986, President Ronald Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” While “The Gipper” offered many phrases that seem prophetic today, I doubt even he could have imagined the stultifying regulatory scheme cooked up and released on May 13, 2024 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with the Orwellian title, “Order 1920:  Building for the Future Through Electric Regional Transmission Planning and Cost Allocation.”

With only two members of the five-member authorized Commission voting for Order 1920 the agency touted the new literal and figurative “federal power grab” by saying, “FERC acted today to ensure the transmission grid can meet the nation’s growing demand for reliable electricity with a new rule that outlines how to plan and pay for facilities that regions of the country will need to keep the lights on and power the economy into the 21st Century.”

If only this were true.

In fact, what FERC did was to create an administrative end-run around the U.S. Congress which has been debating electrical grid permitting reform to advance the green energy agenda of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Senate majority and the Biden Administration. Bypassing an impasse in talks among a bipartisan group of Senators, FERC has added a mountainous 1,363-page layer of federal bureaucracy to the transmission grid and electrical resource planning process, dramatically reducing the say that state and regional electrical regulatory officials have and thereby moving the processes of government one major step farther away from the people such agencies are designed to serve. 

I have been a member of the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) for nearly 7½ years now, and I serve as the Commission’s point person on regional and national issues involving the electrical transmission grid and resource adequacy.

Representing the Montana PSC at a recent conference in Colorado of public utility commissioners from several Western states, PSC President James Brown and I had the opportunity to meet with FERC Commissioner Mark Christie who wrote a very thorough dissent to the issuance of the new FERC Order. His dissent was as compelling as it was complete. In 51 well-research and meticulously-footnoted pages, Christie detailed the historical background of the FERC Order and the litany of reasons why it should be opposed by all of us who care about the future of the transmission and resource planning processes and having a future electrical grid which delivers power safely, reliably, and affordably.