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Wednesday
Feb062019

An Interview with ME PUC Chair, Commissioners, and Former Chair

Sourced from Steve Mitnick, Public Utilities Fortnightly, “A Day (Two Actually) at the Maine PUC” (January 2019).

In this posting, I summarize a recent series of interviews with the current Maine PUC Chair, Commissioners, and Chair Emeritus, Tom Welch. The interviews appeared in the January 2019 edition of Public Utilities Fortnightly. All of the interviewees had strong praise and admiration for the hard-working and dedicated staff at the PUC.

Chair Mark Vannoy

The current Chair, Mark Vannoy, is a civil engineer by training who has worked in Maine’s private sector and as a nuclear scientist for the U.S. Navy. Chair Vannoy believes he was appointed for his understanding of “the technical aspects of how utility services are delivered.” He takes a solutions-oriented decision making and policy development approach and summarized some of the highlights to date, and priorities moving forward, in his time as Chair of the Commission:

  • Endorsed ISO NE and widely-held view that inadequate natural gas supply infrastructure is a regional problem;
    • As evidence of that issue, Vannoy cited New England’s status as a national outlier in that its peak pricing in wintertime diverges from when the region’s peak load occurs in the summer. Elsewhere, peak pricing typically coincides with peak load.
  • Chair Vannoy explained he has focused a great deal on gas safety, praising the work of the gas safety division. He also mentioned delivering key note presentation at a 2015 Portland Natural Gas conference co-hosted by Verrill Dana and Pierce Atwood.

Chair Vannoy further noted his belief that Maine needs to do more regarding electricity prices to compete in the national manufacturing industry, an industry which makes up a large part of Maine’s base of electricity usage.

Commissioner Randy Davis

As a chemical engineer who spent a career designing computerized process control schemes at ExxonMobil and in Maine’s paper industry, Commissioner Davis understands the management of energy intensive industry. Davis stated that he prioritizes keeping up with the technical learning required to address the highly variable case load. He also maintains a focus on energy issues close to home, stating that he intentionally limited his participation in national issues outside of Maine and New England.

In terms of upcoming priorities, the Commissioner mentioned the need to address integration of renewable energy into the grid and Mainers’ lives. Davis further suggested that Maine needs a comprehensive energy plan before tackling decision-making concerning one-off issues.

Commissioner Williamson

Commissioner Williamson is a regulatory economics specialist. He noted the great benefit for the Commission of having an interdisciplinary set of expertise among the current Commissioners. Williamson reported the importance of theoretical approaches that emphasize the fundamental principles of utility regulation. After some summaries of regulatory theories, the Commissioner set out a few of his priorities for the future, which included:

  • Addressing electricity rates in New England and their effect of disadvantaging Maine in competition for business with other regions and
  • Working on the thoughtful integration of renewables into the regional energy mix, within an all-of-the-above approach.

Chair Emeritus, Tom Welch

Welch served three terms as Chair of the PUC, two full, six-year terms beginning in 1993 and then a three-year term beginning in 2011. He participated in the regulatory restructuring of both the telephone and electric industries that introduced competitive structures to both. Now, he described, the telephone industry is dominated by competition and electric generators are deregulated down to the retail level.

The Former Chair said he is pleased with his role in introducing a level of economic reality and an evolution toward market incentives into the regulatory process.

Other than being an astronaut, Welch said, it’s hard to imagine a better job.

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