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Series of Conferences Planned To Tackle Gas Reforms

Series of Conferences Planned To Tackle Gas Reforms

As part of its ongoing quest to comprehensively reform the natural gas industry, FERC last week announced that it is planning a series of conferences to tackle issues ranging from its proposed capacity auction to state unbundling to a pre-filing collaborative process for gas pipeline projects.

Foremost, the full Commission plans to convene a broad-based "policy" conference to discuss short-term issues in the gas industry, with the focus to be on the July notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) and notice of inquiry (NOI).

Chairman James Hoecker said FERC wants to discuss certain, unspecified issues with market participants after "areas of particular interest and concerns" are identified in industry written comments that are due in late January. The date and scope of the planned conference, which will be presided over by commissioners, will be disclosed after the comments have been summarized at FERC.

"That's very encouraging," said a pipeline industry representative, adding that maybe FERC will address policy issues that the Commission staff refused to respond to at the workshop on short-term capacity auctions two weeks ago. Just the fact that the Commission will be presiding is "really good and exciting news," she said.

FERC-State Relations

Hoecker last week also said the Commission will hold a conference on Feb. 25 to take a closer look at the relationship between federal regulation of interstate gas pipelines and retail unbundling at the state level.

"...[O]ur policies here at the Commission on the gas side clearly affect state retail-access programs, and increasingly the reverse is the case. So we need to understand the goals of the states and they need to understand ours to get regulatory and operational regimes to operate in sync in the gas delivery system," he said at the bi-weekly meeting. LDCs are particularly concerned that FERC's auction proposal may thwart state unbundling efforts.

"I think we share [with] our colleagues at the state level a desire to encourage a vibrant natural gas market that will work well." Since FERC currently is engaged in a "comprehensive re-examination" of its gas policies, now is the appropriate time to examine the relationship between the Commission's policies and proposals and the state retail policies, according to the notice of conference issued last Wednesday {PL99-1]

The Commission said it wants to determine the scope and status of gas retail unbundling, such as the number of states that already have implemented retail unbundling programs, how they are doing it and what are the chief benefits. In addition, FERC noted it wants to know what steps the Commission, or the states, can take to encourage the development of state retail unbundling, while at the same time maintaining the benefits of a restructured interstate gas market.

Houston, Chicago

Moreover, FERC plans to hold two technical conferences this month - one in Houston and one in Chicago - to discuss its proposal for a pre-filing collaborative process that would bring parties affected by new pipeline projects together to work out major issues prior to the filing of applications.

The Commission's proposal would offer prospective pipeline applicants seeking to "construct, operate or abandon natural gas facilities" the opportunity to use a collaborative process to resolve major differences early on. In addition, a significant portion of the environmental review process could be completed as well.

The first conference is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Nov. 10 at the Houston Airport Marriott in Houston, TX. This would be followed by a Nov. 18 conference at the Chicago Marriott Downtown in Chicago, IL. The Commission staff will present information and answer questions to help industry develop written comments in response to the NOPR on this subject that was issued in late September.

Susan Parker

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