Hydropower and pumped storage ease clean energy transition

New FERC chair won't regulate resources but actions expected to impact climate.

Days after U.S. President Biden was sworn into office, he named Rich Glick to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) are anticipated to benefit from flexible resources like hydropower and pumped storage.

As a resource–neutral regulator, the Commission is required by the Federal Power Act to treat equally all energy resources as it sets rules for wholesale markets, according to the National Hydropower Association (NHA).

However, FERC actions are likely to address climate change based on a 2019 article then Commissioner Glick and his legal advisor Matt Christiansen co-authored a 46-page article published by the Energy Bar Association.

R.L. Harris Hydroelectric Project, Tallapoosa River, Alabama. photo credit Alabama Power as displayed on southeast FWS.gov hydropower licensing training workshop webpage

On the basis of public interest and without directly regulating resources, FERC can encourage regional transmission development; discourage discrimination against newer, cleaner technologies; and approve energy infrastructure like hydro projects, LNG terminals and gas pipelines.

Hydroelectric facilities... produce zero-emissions electricity and are generally fully dispatchable (meaning that they can help integrate variable energy resources, such as wind and solar)... The potential to both generate zero-emissions electricity and integrate other sources of zero-emissions electricity is an important aspect of any public interest determination and should bear on whether a new or renewed license is appropriate. (“FERC and Climate Change”, EBA Law Journal, 2019).

Unclear is the Commission's evaluation of hydropower's climate benefits versus its impacts on rivers. Also unclear is additional action by FERC as the grid transitions to more variable resources to address ancillary services.

Hydropower’s value propositions of reliability and flexibility have not been lost on the new FERC chair. During NHA's 2019 Waterpower Week event, he made the following remark:

“From a hydro perspective, of any generating resource out there, hydro provides the greatest amounts of flexibility… The problem is the way the markets have been designed; we haven’t been looking at adequately compensating for the value that hydro and other flexible resources provide on the grid. In some cases, we aren’t providing adequate compensation.” (Glick remarks, 2019 Waterpower Week)

Today, according to RTOinsider.com, Glick has named a new general counsel at the Commission: Matt Christiansen.