FERC Strategic Plan Stiffs Natural Gas

By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor | December 2009 Vol. 64 No. 12

Anyone looking for an acknowledgement in the new FERC strategic plan that the commission is focused on expanding pipeline infrastructure need not waste his time reading the 50-page document FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff issued in mid-October.

The fiscal year 2009-2014 plan devotes exactly one page to natural gas. The "Long Term Performance" goal advanced on that page will not cause any jubilation in the industry; head-scratching maybe. The goal says that by fiscal 2014, 100% of jurisdictional natural gas companies "will be examined for feasibility of installing waste-heat recovery systems."

The idea here is to take the heat generated by compressors as a waste byproduct and use it to run industrial generators and create electricity. The problem, of course, is that most compressor stations are in the middle of nowhere; there are no industrial factories or electric transmission lines anywhere in sight. Moreover, the cost of fitting compressors for waste-heat recovery would ostensibly be born by the pipeline companies, not their customers. A report done for INGAA in 2008 on this subject stated: "The economic margins for compressor heat recovery appear to be quite narrow." That report found six such systems in existence, four located at Northern Border Pipeline compressors in North Dakota.

The FERC strategic plan calls for the agency to conduct bi-monthly reviews of electronic bulletin boards (EBB) "to gauge the availability of information on waste-heat recovery potential." Yet FERC acknowledges that pipelines are not required to post that information on EBBs.