Obama nominates Ron Binz to head Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

President Obama nominated Ron Binz, a strong proponent of renewable energy and former Colorado utility regulator, to head Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Thursday night.

Binz will be appointed as a commissioner and upon appointment, will take over as chairman to replace departing chairman Jon Wellinghoff.

Binz, who chaired Colorado's Public Utilities Commission between 2007 and 2011, has served as a principal with Public Policy Consulting since leaving state government.  He is also a senior policy adviser with the  Colorado State University's Center for the New Energy Economy, which is headed by the state's former governor Bill Ritter (D).

The selection of Binz pleased proponents of wind, solar and other renewable technologies, though it could spark opposition from some Republicans and the coal industry.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, issued a statement Thursday night saying she would carefully scrutinize the nomination.

“FERC’s decisions have a direct effect on whether our nation’s energy is abundant, affordable, and secure," she said. "During the confirmation process, I will carefully consider the nominee’s qualifications and fitness to serve – not only as Commissioner, but also as Chair.”

Several energy experts who have worked with Binz praised his work Thursday. Michael Bowman, a renewable energy expert who co-chaired Ritter's energy transition team in 2006, said Binz was an excellent choice because he understands how the nation's current electricity distribution system "has been designed over decades to encourage coal and nuclear" baseload power rather than emerging, more widely distributed sources of electricity.

For the United States to make the transition to a greater reliance on solar and wind power, Bowman said, the country "needs someone desperately like Ron who understands this."

Once the nomination was announced two utility CEOs,  Public Service Enterprise Group's Ralph Izzo and  Xcel Energy Inc.'s Ben Fowe, praised the choice in a joint statement along with Lola Spradley, a Republican and former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives

In the statement, Izzo called Binz "a strong and timely choice to lead FERC" at a time of "rapid change and technological advances."

"Ron has both the experience and intellect to hit the ground running and ensure thoughtful consideration of emerging opportunities," Izzo added.

"His understanding of the regulatory process makes him uniquely qualified to address the diverse set of issues facing utilities in the U.S., from grid modernization to carbon regulation," Fowke said.

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Aaron Blake | June 27, 2013