Energy agencies fared well during government shutdown

The lights stayed on during the just-ended partial government shutdown, both across America and in the offices of many government agencies serving the electricity sector, though those agencies were not entirely unaffected.

“We were fortunate enough not to have to send anybody home” at a time when non-essential personnel at many government agencies were placed on unpaid furlough, a spokesperson for the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) told TransmissionHub Oct. 18. “It’s not that it didn’t have impacts; we certainly tightened our belts and cut back on training, travel, and similar things in an effort to be prudent.”

The primary reason WAPA was able to continue operations relatively unscathed is the source of its funding.

“Approximately 10% of our funding comes from appropriations; everything else is either power receipts or customer advance funding,” the spokesperson said, noting that many government agencies are funded entirely by appropriations. Through advance funding, customers essentially pay in advance, and are then given credits toward future bills.

Their funding structures also enabled the other federal power marketing administrations to remain open.

“Because [the Bonneville Power Administration] BPA is ratepayer funded and does not rely on federal appropriations, we were not impacted by the government shutdown,” a BPA spokesperson told TransmissionHub. “We were business as usual.”

Operations continued at the Southeastern and Southwestern Power Administrations as well.

FERC also remained open for business. A notice on the FERC website on Oct. 1 said that, “[U]ntil such time as the commission issues a notice or otherwise takes action to the contrary, the commission will continue normal business operations and maintain normal business hours as set forth in” chapter 18 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), § 375.101(c), which states that FERC will maintain normal business hours “[u]nless the chairman otherwise directs.” The agency was able to remain in operation using “available balances from prior years during a lapse in appropriations,” a spokesperson told TransmissionHub Oct. 18.

The electric reliability organization for North America, NERC, is a private company and was not affected by the shutdown.

The legislation that brought the partial shutdown to an end as of Oct. 17 will fund the government through Jan. 15, 2014, and permit it to borrow normally through Feb. 7. It also provides the secretary of the treasury the ability to use some accounting maneuvers to extend the debt ceiling through approximately mid-March. Finally, it provides back pay for those employees who were furloughed and for critical employees who were kept at their duty stations on an unpaid basis.

Should another shutdown occur early next year, at least one agency expects things will be essentially the same.

“You always need to worry a little bit [but] we would expect to be in a similar situation” should another shutdown occur, the WAPA spokesperson said.