Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lawmakers Confirm New Utilities Regulator With Close Industry Ties

Posted By on June 17, 2015, 12:55 PM

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At a Wednesday legislative committee, lawmakers approved the confirmation of Jordan White to become the newest member of the three-person Public Services Commission. The commission helps oversee and regulate utilities, which troubled clean-energy advocates who raised concerns about White’s long-time work as a lawyer for largely fossil-fuel dependent utilities including Utah’s Rocky Mountain Power.

White’s most recent experience has been as counsel to the Public Services Commission but among his credentials also touted being president of the National Organization of Utility Commission Lawyers. White spoke of his more than a decade’s worth of experience in the areas of utility law and told lawmakers he was a strong believer in Governor Gary Herbert’s energy policies stressing “reliable, affordable, and sustainable” energy sources.

“Utah is definitely doing some things right and as commissioner I would endeavor to stay the course,” White said.

For advocates like Tim Wagner of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, White’s background representing fossil-fuel reliant utilities presented a potential conflict, especially since the Public Service Commission is expected in the coming months to decide whether or not to approve a request by Rocky Mountain Power to charge a special net metering fee to Utahns who power their homes with solar panels. It’s a conflict especially applicable to White given that he had even represented Rocky Mountain Power as legal counsel in the past.

“When a person comes from the background he comes from and goes to a commission that will regulate the very industry he came from ... to me, that represents a conflict and that looks particularly bad to the public,” Wagner said.

White, however, explained to the committee that his background working with Rocky Mountain Power and it’s parent company PacifiCorp dated back to more than seven years ago, and that that work was almost strictly related to issues surrounding the company’s properties, not legal advice on regulatory matters the utility would have brought before the Public Services Commission.

White’s previous work has also included representing Florida Power & Light as recently as 2012. According to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, that company had joined other state utilities in donating to state lawmakers to resist the expansion of rooftop solar in the state, and in 2014, was approved by Florida regulators “to collect $191 million from customers and use the money to enter the controversial fracking industry with a natural gas venture in Oklahoma.”

But in Wednesday’s hearing, White also noted doing work for another Florida company he said was one of the largest renewable energy developers in the nation.

“I’ve really been on both sides of the aisle,” White said.

White’s confirmation faced little resistance, and concerned environmental advocates even spoke favorably of White’s fairness when it came to offering legal advice to the commission.

The Senate Transportation and Public Utilities Confirmation Committee voted unanimously to approve White, who was nominated by the Governor. Most lawmakers on the panel, however, urged White to be mindful of the potential conflict raised in the meeting.

Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, asked White to especially be considerate of Utahns who might want to make the choice to power their homes with solar and to respect their decisions.

“Your position at the PSC, as you know, affects [Utahns] daily functioning within their homes and their families. You have a high background working with some of the traditional, long-term utility companies and there has been some concern about that,” Harper said. “My only concern is that we have got to have someone that respects the changing technology and the changes in how we’re going to be doing things now, and in 10 years in the future and in 20 years in the future.”
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