By Rob Cowin, Union of Concerned Scientists
There’s a little known independent federal agency whose decisions could have big impacts on states like Kansas and Iowa. It’s called the Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC makes decisions that affect electric power markets and approval (or rejection) of applications to build interstate electric transmission lines that are essential for the continued growth of the thriving wind industries in these states. But the independence of this agency is being threatened by the Trump Administration with the potential confirmation of Bernard McNamee for FERC Commissioner; a Trump politico who has no regulatory experience or experience in the electric utility industry and is an avowed critic of wind power and renewables.
FERC’s decisions aim to ensure there are fair and competitive markets, protect consumers from exorbitant electricity prices and maintain electricity reliability -keeping the lights on. Those decisions also affect how our electric grid develops and what type of energy resources we use to power our nation. Whether we stick with old, expensive, polluting sources of the past (like coal) or whether we increase access and reliance on newer, cheaper, cleaner sources of the future (like wind power). An anti-wind FERC commissioner would be an absolute disaster for Kansans and Iowans. The wind industry in these states provides 36-37% of electricity generation and supports thousands of jobs (9,000 jobs in Iowa alone according to the Iowa Wind Energy Association). Wind energy also helps protect Kansans and Iowans from volatile gas prices and higher electric bills.
McNamee has publicly criticized wind and renewables, asserting that “it screws up the whole physics of the grid” and that fossil fuels and nuclear are preferable for “keeping the lights on”. Such statements show one, that he would be unable to uphold FERC’s long history of fuel neutrality; and two, McNamee doesn’t know how the grid works. His statements run counter to what we know about the evolving benefits of distributed generation, renewable energy resources, transmission, and emerging grid technologies, like energy storage. A FERC commissioner willing to put his thumb on the scale for fossil fuels would hurt Iowa and Kansas’ wind industries, preventing fair competition and access to lucrative markets. But a look at McNamee’s previous job reveals why the Trump Administration wants him on the commission.
McNamee was one of the key architects of the Administration’s controversial DOE proposal to use executive authority to force consumers to buy electricity from struggling over-priced coal and nuclear plants; a proposal would cost $10 billion per year. FERC soundly rejected the proposal earlier this year, but it’s likely to be taken up by the commission again. This is a huge conflict of interest. What’s increasingly clear is that the Administration wants an “inside man” to subvert the growing wind and solar industries that are positioned to dominate our energy future. Our transition to a clean energy economy will benefit states like Iowa and Kansas enormously, but a Trump-captured FERC could stall out that transition and hurt wind-state economies and electricity consumers around the country.
The Senate is expected to vote today to confirm Bernard McNamee to be one of five FERC commissioners with the power to make decisions that will significantly affect our nation’s electricity system and could uniquely affect states like Kansas and Iowa. Beyond the adverse impact McNamee’s confirmation would have on these states, it would also be a blatant threat to good governance and an enormous conflict of interest. The Senate delegations from Kansas and Iowa should be putting their state’s industries and economy over politics and fealty to President Trump, and vote NO on Bernard McNamee for FERC commissioner. A vote for McNamee is a vote against wind -Kansans and Iowans simply have too much to lose.