Neil Chatterjee, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has directed Commission staff to plan a technical conference looking at the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the energy industry.
Chatterjee provided additional details about the conference in comments he made during a May 8 webinar hosted by Tony Clark, a senior advisor at the law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer and a former FERC Commissioner.
“We’ve been thinking a lot about how this pandemic may affect the industry going forward as we recover from the economic devastation that it has unleashed,” Chatterjee said.
“We’re seeing decreased demand for electricity, for gas, for oil, but we don’t know yet if these are short term issues or whether these trends will continue,” he said.
“I really want to get in front of these issues and think about how we respond in the coming months and, really, even in the coming years,” Chatterjee said.
To that end, FERC is planning a Commissioner-led technical conference in late June or early July with several panels to address some of the longer-term pandemic issues, the Chairman noted.
“We would likely address system operations and planning challenges with a discussion of the energy industry’s ongoing and potential future operational challenges due to COVID-19” as the sector plans to return to post-pandemic operations, Chatterjee noted.
Topics could include operations and planning issues such as cybersecurity, workforce issues, supply chain considerations, deferred maintenance and next steps in returning to normal operations.
“Second, we would talk about the effect possible changes to electric and natural gas demand would have on planning and infrastructure development,” Chatterjee said.
“I think we would explore how changes in energy usage could affect both short term and long-term planning in energy infrastructure development,” he said.
“Topics on a panel like that would likely include the electric sector response to changing demand patterns in day to day operations, longer term planning and infrastructure development,” Chatterjee said.
“Third, we would discuss interrelated issues potentially affecting the electric, gas and oil industries” in relation to credit, liquidity, access to capital and return on equity (ROE).
“In particular, we’d like to think about ROE issues from a longer-term perspective – 12 months, 18 months, 24 months from now – and consider appropriate returns when risk factors are evolving,” he said.
“We’d also delve into the impact of risk factors on utility financial metrics and credit ratings and the interdependencies of credit issues associated with retail and wholesale.”