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Sunday December 17, 2017

The so-called shale gale, aka, shale wave, which has positively impacted natural gas production, consumption and prices across the U.S., is a comfortable topic of discussion for Robert F. Powelson.

With the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays major contributors to the gale/wave, the native Pennsylvania likes to point out what he calls the “Pennsylvania Experience,” how the state has tapped the shale for jobs, taxes and lower gas prices.

People listen to Powelson because he is three months into his term as a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission commissioner.

In just three months on the job, Powelson and his two fellow commissioners have approved $70 billion of infrastructure projects.

“We are now under a lot of pressure from Congress to slow down at FERC,” Powelson said, addressing invited guests to law firm Blank Rome’s Third Annual Energy Industry Update, held last Thursday in Pittsburgh. Kallanish Energy was in attendance at the program.

Powelson said since 2008, wholesale prices on average have dropped 56%, while retail gas prices have fallen 62% in the last nine years.

During his roughly 25-minute presentation, Powelson covered a number of subjects, including:

* Liquefied natural gas. Powelson said Dominion Energy’s Cove Point LNG export facility in Maryland, is officially functioning, effective Nov. 1, and will continue to ramp up through the end of the year.

Cove Point is the first LNG export facility on the East Coast, (a region) that could support a second facility,” Powelson said. “Over 19 LNG export licenses are at (under review) at FERC right now,” according to the commissioner.

* Electricity reserve margins “are pretty strong,” nationwide, but one big reason for strong margins is because “we haven’t had load growth in that timeframe (2008 to present),” according to Powelson.

* The U.S. nuclear “renaissance” is not in very good shape. A handful of years ago, said renaissance was very evident, worldwide and certainly in the U.S., including projects ongoing in Georgia and South Carolina.

“Right now there are only two projects underway in the U.S.: Vogtle in Georgia and Watts Bar, a Tennessee Valley Authority project,” Powelson said. “The South Carolina project, Summer, was canceled.”

Known for his no holds barred take on various subjects (earlier this year at a conference, he called people who opposed pipelines as waging a jihad against the natural gas industry), Powelson had interesting things to say about the keeper of New England’s power grid and the governor of New York.

“The New England Independent System Operator keeps me up at night,” Powelson said. “New England lacks sufficient interstate (power transmission) lines into the market, and is becoming the California of the East. New England markets have the highest power costs in the country.”

Powelson said there could be potential reliability issues in New England within a decade.

Powelson called New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo a real “Debbie Downer,” in terms of not allowing hydraulic fracturing within the state and, more recently, not allowing natural gas lines to even pass through the “Empire State.”

The FERC commissioner also said Cuomo could take two hours to watch the television news program “Sixty Minutes.”

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