Important Economic & Policy Issues facing the Energy Industry

The National Capital Area Chapter of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics (NCAC-USAEE) featured Tom Russo, Founding Partner of Russo on Energy LLC in its July 2016 newsletter. Tom spoke about key economic/policy issues facing the energy industry and why the NCAC-USAEE is a great place to network in Washington DC.

In your opinion, what are important economic/policy issues facing the energy industry nowadays?

I think an important challenge for the energy industry and NCAC-USAEE members is to educate the public. I see evidence of a vocal public focused on local issues that has little understanding on how electricity and natural gas markets work even though they provide many benefits. Instead, people are taking sides and using slogans like “More Renewables” or “No Fracking” with little or no knowledge of the consequences to the electric grid or environment. I guess events this summer in California will serve as a “test bed” for what happens when those natural gas resources are in short supply in a renewable heavy environment.

The public has also grown increasingly impatient and has no appetite for energy infrastructure that poses safety or environmental concerns. NIMBY is on the rise also and even wind and solar projects are increasingly hard to site. Unfortunately, the primary elections have amply demonstrated that Presidential nominees have even less knowledge than the public on energy and infrastructure issues.

Any particular achievement/interest in energy/environment you would like to mention?

NIMBY "Not In My Back Yard" always troubled me as well as how NEPA environmental reviews are misused to site energy infrastructure. So when I had an opportunity to change things, I did. I helped craft a cooperative process between the New York Power Authority and 43 U.S. and Canadian federal, state and local agencies and NGOs for the FERC relicensing of the 900-MW St. Lawrence-FDR Hydropower Project on the St. Lawrence River. My efforts helped the parties jointly prepare NEPA documents and resulted in a comprehensive settlement. That was very satisfying.

Please note your affiliation and years of experience in the energy and/or environmental field, and any particular achievement/interest in energy/environment you would like to mention.

I founded Russo on Energy LLC about a year ago after spending 30 years at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Today I am interested in how natural gas markets are greening the electric power sector and global environmental policy. I’m also concerned about aging natural gas and oil infrastructure and safety issues as well as recent events at California’s Aliso Canyon Gas Storage facility that are causing electric reliability problems this summer. 

When I first came to FERC, I spent many years in the hydropower program doing and managing NEPA impact assessments. I learned quite a bit about the energy industry from my hydropower experience and spent a lot of time out of the office visiting projects (a great job perk!).

I then jumped ship and got involved in FERC’s Reengineering Project and was exposed to energy markets. I was never the same again. I joined the Office of Enforcement and learned a great deal about physical natural gas, crude oil and natural gas liquids markets as well as energy derivatives.

How long have you been a member of NCAC? Any particular NCAC memory you would like to share with us?

I joined in 2014 and have made some great friends here. The luncheons at NCAC-USAEE are a convenient way to stay in touch with colleagues and keep abreast of energy issues. I’ve also taken advantage of outside seminars and training events such as the Energy Trading course put on by Alan Levine and Elaine Levin of Powerhouse.