Broad energy bill clears Senate

A broad energy bill supported by the American Public Power Association passed the Senate by a wide margin of 85-12 in late April. The measure, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, must now be reconciled with an energy bill passed by the House last year.

On April 19, the day before the measure (S.2012) passed the Senate, APPA President and CEO Sue Kelly wrote to Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and the committee's ranking Democrat, Maria Cantwell of Washington, to reiterate APPA's support for the bill.

APPA greatly appreciates your tireless work on developing a comprehensive energy bill and your outreach to public power utilities on electricity issues," Kelly said.

In her letter, Kelly highlighted the top issues addressed by the bill, including: reliability; hydropower licensing reform; energy efficiency; emerging utility workforce challenges; and expedited natural gas pipeline permitting.

The letter also highlighted a requirement for regional transmission organizations to report to Congress on capacity markets based on a balanced set of criteria, including reliability, diversity of capacity resources, and whether capacity market rules "provide an enhanced opportunity for self-supply of electric generating capacity resources."

Last summer, Murkowski and Cantwell released a 357-page energy bill that pulled together dozens of bills that had been considered by the committee over the previous several months.

At the end of January, the Senate appeared poised to pass S. 2012, but debate on the legislation came to a standstill in February.

Before the final vote on April 20, the lawmakers adopted a set of amendments and then debated eight final amendments and voted on those.

APPA was opposed to one of the amendments that was adopted. The amendment, by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., will provide model guidance for waste heat and combined heat and power systems.

"Public power utilities have a long history of supporting combined heat and power (CHP) and other distributed energy resources, but this amendment is unnecessary and appears to exclude any captured heat from a process designed solely to generate electricity," Kelly wrote in her letter to committee leaders.

APPA took no position on any of the amendments that were debated except for one by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., which would have imposed additional reporting requirements on projects authorized under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The amendment was rejected on a vote of 42-55.

APPA supported the amendment because of the association's longstanding concerns about Section 1222. In particular, APPA is concerned that as implemented, Section 1222 could require public power utilities to pay for transmission lines that they do not need and that are outside the statutory mission of the federal power marketing administrations.

In terms of next steps, the House and Senate are both expected to request a conference to resolve the differences between S. 2012 and the House energy bill, H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015.

As of early May, no additional details had been publicly announced with respect to whether a conference will take place to reconcile the bills and, if so, which lawmakers will participate in the conference.

Murkowski on April 20 said that she wanted to move quickly to a conference with the House, but acknowledged the process will be challenging due to the limited election year calendar and large differences between the two chambers on issues like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program.

House passed legislation in December

The House passed H.R. 8 in early December by a vote of 249 to 174.

In a Dec. 2 letter to members of the House, Kelly noted that APPA supported the legislation, adding that H.R. 8 "includes several provisions important to public power utilities."

Among other things, APPA supported the inclusion of the Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act of 2015 in the bill. That provision "will ensure that electricity generators will no longer be forced to choose between conflicting legal obligations when acting to comply with emergency reliability orders from the Department of Energy," Kelly wrote in the letter to House members.

This provision was subsequently enacted into law as part of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act of 2015, or FAST Act.

APPA also supported the inclusion of language to expedite the permitting of interstate natural gas pipelines by reinforcing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's role as the lead agency for siting and requiring cooperating agencies to conduct environmental reviews concurrently.

"APPA supports the House and Senate energy bills and will work with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee to ensure the provisions APPA supports are retained in conference and the ones we have concerns with are removed," said Desmarie Waterhouse, Acting Vice President of Government Relations and Counsel at APPA.