Legislators in five states in PJM have filed similar bills that would require regulated utilities to submit all of their stakeholder votes publicly with state regulators.
Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia have all introduced bills in the effort, which is supported by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) and the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Illinois.
Maryland Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D) introduced a similar bill, HB 505, last year that cleared the House; she has reintroduced it this year. (See Maryland Bill Would Require Utilities to Report Votes at PJM.)
“My colleagues and I, across the PJM region, know that decisions made at PJM affect our ratepayers, the reliability of our electric grid and our transition to clean energy,” Charkoudian said. “These are all issues we are working on at the state level, and PJM’s rules have the ability to either support or hamper our ability to address these issues. This bill will go a long way to establishing transparency to support our ability to engage with PJM on these crucial issues.”
While PJM’s meetings are open to the public, so many are held that state regulators and consumer groups cannot track all of them, Clara Summers, manager of CUB’s Consumers for a Better Grid campaign, said in an interview.
“When utilities vote at PJM, the outcome of those votes impact our clean energy transition; they impact our reliability and the cost of electricity,” Summers said. “So, these bills are about introducing better transparency and better accountability for how those utilities are voting on these issues that affect our electric markets and transmission.”
With hundreds of meetings a year that can last hours and do not always produce records of how individual firms voted, making sure utilities are open about how they are voting will ensure states that their policies are being respected, she added.
PJM itself did not weigh in on the substance of the bills, but it said its stakeholder process is transparent.
“The PJM stakeholder process and the various stakeholder meetings, approximately 450 meetings, are open to the media and the public, with agendas and minutes posted on our website,” the RTO said in a statement.
Unlike the major committees — the Markets and Reliability Committee and the Members Committee — the lower committees allow firms’ individual affiliates to vote. Some firms, like American Electric Power and FirstEnergy, have so many affiliates that on their own, their votes can outweigh the combined votes of the participating consumer advocates, Summers said. “That increases their potential for impacting which proposals get voted on to advance.”
To win approval, rule changes need a majority in the lower committees and a two-thirds sector-weighted majority at the MRC and MC. PJM provides summaries of votes by sector at the major committees and details how individual members voted at the Members Committee.
Both Summers and Ava Gallo, NCEL’s climate and energy manager, said one reason states have become more interested in the PJM process is the drama around the now-defunct extended minimum offer price rule (MOPR-Ex). During the Trump administration in 2018, FERC controversially ordered the RTO to expand its bidding floor in the capacity market to all new state-subsidized resources; the rule had previously only applied to new gas-fired resources. (See FERC Extends PJM MOPR to State Subsidies.)
Politics among the PJM states is diverse, but Gallo said that while West Virginia and Illinois might differ sharply on energy policy, they both value transparency.
“NCEL is proud to help organize these state legislators across the PJM region,” Gallo said. “We know that legislators work tirelessly to ensure their constituents have affordable, reliable and clean electricity. States are stronger together, and this legislation can help ensure that utilities across the region are also working towards these same goals.”
The West Virginia legislation comes almost a year after its Public Service Commission filed a complaint at FERC alleging it had been improperly blocked from the PJM Liaison Committee, whose meetings are limited to members and the RTO’s Board of Managers. (See W.Va. PSC Files Complaint over PJM Meeting Policy.)
In the still-pending complaint proceeding (EL23-45), PJM responded that the committee was created so stakeholders could have direct communication with its board outside of the normal stakeholder process and that the board has closed-door meetings with state regulators under a deal it signed with the Organization of PJM States Inc.
“In West Virginia, people’s electric rates have gone up faster than any other state,” state Del. Evan Hansen (D) said. “We need our electric utilities to explain how their secret votes at PJM are in the public interest.”