FERC electric storage policy statement

Monday, January 23, 2017

U.S. energy regulators have issued a policy statement addressing how electric storage resources may provide services at a mix of cost-based and market-based rates.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's January 19, 2017 policy statement on storage provides insight into how the Commission views its role in regulating the rates at which energy storage would be compensated -- but was accompanied by a dissenting view expressed by Commissioner LaFleur.   The result is a mix of both greater certainty and continued debate.

Electricity storage is a growing industry, both in terms of installed capacity and its capability to flexibly support the grid.  Today's electric storage resources can both charge and discharge electricity to and from the grid.  Moreover they can provide various services to multiple entities -- for example, consumers, grid operators, or transmission and distribution utilities -- and can switch nearly instantaneously between modes of operation or services provided.  In these ways, electric storage resources share some functions of consumer load, generation, transmission, and distribution. 

Some of these functions -- e.g. sales of electric energy at wholesale in an organized market -- may be compensated at market-based rates.  But other functions of energy storage could be compensated at cost-based rates under federal law -- perhaps functioning as a transmission asset, compensated through transmission rates.  Thus it's possible that a particular energy storage resource -- think a battery attached to the electric grid, perhaps sited at a factory or other consumer's location -- might be compensated for its operations under both cost-based and market-based rates.

This is a good thing, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  According to the January 19, 2017 policy statement, "Enabling electric storage resources to provide multiple services (including both cost-based and market-based services) ensures that the full capabilities of these resources can be realized, thereby maximizing their efficiency and value for the system and to consumers."

But previous proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have exposed some concerns about allowing electric storage resources to recover costs through both cost-based and market-based rates concurrently.  As described by the Commission, these include "double recovery of costs to the detriment of cost-based ratepayers, potential for adverse competitive impacts in wholesale electric markets to the detriment of other competitors, and the need for independence of regional grid operators from market participants."

With respect to utilities subject to its jurisdiction, the Commission's recent policy statement, "Utilitzation of Electric Storage Resources for Multiple Services When Receiving Cost-Based Rate Recovery," provides guidance regarding these issues.  It details possible approaches for avoiding double recovery of costs.  The Commission notes that with regard to adverse market impacts, it "is not convinced there will be a detriment to other market competitors."  The policy statement also offers guidance on how grid operators and electric storage owners or operators should interact, to ensure independence as required by Commission policy.

Commissioner LaFleur issued a dissenting opinion, while nevertheless calling storage "an important and promising resource that warrants Commission attention to ensure that our markets are appropriately adapted to recognize storage’s unique characteristics and contributions."  While expressing an openness "to potential structures that compensate storage providing transmission service at a cost-based rate while participating in the wholesale markets", she expressed concern "about the broad rationale for this approach put forth in the Policy Statement," which she called "both flawed in its conclusions and premature in its timing."  In particular her dissent focused on what she described as "the Policy Statement’s sweeping conclusions about the potential impacts of multiple payment streams on pricing in wholesale electric markets" -- and whether it might have implications for resources other than storage that receive multiple payment streams.  She also disagreed with the Commission's decision to issue the policy statement separate from its pending Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the participation of electric storage in wholesale markets.

Both the majority policy statement and Commissioner LaFleur's dissent shed light on how the Commission approaches energy storage rate issues.  Storage seems universally considered worth investigating or supporting, but disagreement remains within the Commission with respect to some aspects of how storage resources should be compensated (as well as procedural issues related to the Commission's consideration of these questions).  Nevertheless the policy statement does provide guidance and clarification into how a majority of the Commission views the compensation of storage resources under both cost- and market-based rate structures -- while also framing future discussions over how storage resources will be integrated into markets.

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