Thursday, February 21, 2019

NARUC Briefs: New Chief Picked, Staffers Honored

By Tom Kleckner

Iowa’s Wagner Lays out his Vision as NARUC President

ORLANDO, Fla. — Nick Wagner, newly elected president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and member of the Iowa Utilities Board, told the group’s annual meeting Tuesday that his vision for the organization is more than idle words.

Regulators and staff gather for NARUC’s opening session. | © RTO Insider

“Utilities, customers and stakeholders are looking to us as commissioners for answers. They expect us to lead,” Wagner said, shortly after taking NARUC’s reins from John Betkoski, vice chair of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

“As we approach the future and move forward, we are going to work on leading the way and exploring opportunities,” Wagner said. “This is more than a one-year tagline. What NARUC needs to do is focus on a long-term vision and not a tagline. The issues that are out there? They’ll come up. They don’t care if I put them in a tagline or not.”

Outgoing NARUC President John Betkoski listens to North Dakota’s Julie Fedorchak nominate his successor, Nick Wagner. | © RTO Insider

Wagner said NARUC will partner with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) to create a task force on comprehensive electricity planning, providing a forum to develop state-led pathways “toward a more resilient, efficient and affordable grid.” NASEO is composed of governor-appointed energy officials from each state and U.S. territory.

The task force will include up to 15 commissioners and state energy officials. Colorado Public Utilities Commission Chair Jeffrey Ackermann and Laura Nelson, executive director of the Utah Office of Energy Development, will serve as the group’s co-chairs.

“I’ve challenged the task force to come up with a novel approach outside of a 200-page report that’s going to be thrown on a shelf somewhere and never get read, something that commissions can use in the future as they approach this issue,” Wagner said.

“Things are changing. Technology is changing. Customer needs and wants are evolving,” he continued. “We can look at these changes and focus on exploring opportunities. We can approach our work differently than we’ve done in a way for 20 years. We can embrace moving forward and look at innovative ways to make this a better experience for everyone involved.”

Wagner was elected as NARUC’s president during the Nov. 12 opening general session of the organization’s 130th annual meeting and education conference.

He was appointed to the IUB in May 2013, filling a term that expires next April. He also holds officer positions with the Mid-America Regulatory Conference and the National Council on Electric Policy.

Incoming President Nick Wagner outlines his plans for 2019 to his fellow members. | © RTO Insider

Wagner served in Iowa’s House of Representatives from 2008 to 2012. He holds a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and a master’s in electrical engineering, both from the University of Iowa.

“I’m looking forward to the year. We’ve got a lot of good things we can work on as the world changes for utilities,” he told RTO Insider. “From the very beginning, I knew this was something I wanted to be involved with and engaged in. I knew it was a great organization. What we do is critical to so many lives.”

The membership selected North Carolina’s Edward Finley Jr. as first vice president and Idaho’s Paul Kjellander as second vice president.

Wagner and nine other NARUC members were reappointed to the group’s board of directors: Bob Anthony (Oklahoma), Betty Ann Kane (D.C.), G. O’Neal Hamilton (South Carolina), Carla Peterman (California), Asim Haque (Ohio), Mark Vannoy (Maine), Chris Nelson (South Dakota), Kara Fornstrom (Wyoming) and Angela O’Connor (Massachusetts).

NARUC Hands out Barnich, Innovation Awards

During the opening general ceremony, NARUC bestowed the 2018 Terry Barnich Award to two commission staffers from Arizona and D.C. for their efforts to provide aid and expertise to regulatory partners abroad.

Elijah Abinah, utilities division director for the Arizona Corporation Commission, provided critical knowledge and assistance to NARUC’s long-running partnership with the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission. He has also worked in Uganda and Rwanda, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Power Africa initiative.

Udeozo Ogbue, compliance office chief for the D.C. Public Service Commission, helped lead a partnership exchange with Tanzania’s Energy and Water Utilities Regulatory Authority, stressing the fundamentals of pipeline safety and building the authority’s capacity to develop rules for gas transmission and distribution. He has helped shape utility regulatory development and direction in Tanzania, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Japan, South Korea and Mexico.

The award is presented in the memory of Terry Barnich, former chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, who was killed in Iraq in 2009 while working as the deputy director of the State Department office overseeing U.S. reconstruction projects.

The organization also handed out its Innovation Awards for promoting the exchange of knowledge and information that will benefit innovation in regulatory issues, to four individuals and groups.

Haque, chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, was honored for regulatory and policy innovation for his Power Forward initiative.

Technical innovation awards went to:

  • Greenlots in the electricity sector for developing a grid-management solution that allows utilities and grid operators to intelligently control electric vehicle load;
  • The San Jose Water Co. in the water industry for revitalizing its largest surface water-treatment facility; and
  • The Gas Technology Institute in the gas industry for developing a breakaway disconnect fitting for meter set assemblies.

Travis Kavulla (left) and Nick Wagner listen to a panel. | © RTO Insider

Electricity Committee Approves Storage Resolution

NARUC’s Committee on Electricity during its business meeting approved a resolution recommending five principles to guide member states in modeling energy storage and other flexible resources (EL-4/ERE-1):

  • Utilities and utility commissions should be well educated about the different types of quantitative models that exist today.
  • Utilities should develop, if appropriate, new modeling tools and planning frameworks that allow for a more complete evaluation of energy storage and other flexible resources.
  • Planning frameworks and modeling tools should model the full spectrum of services that energy storage and flexible resources are capable of providing.
  • Utilities should analyze a range of flexible resource options and current cost assumptions to identify and pursue the most cost-effective opportunities that best meet system needs.
  • Regulatory commissions should apply the same basic prudence principles to energy storage investments as to other utility capital plant.

The resolution passed on a voice vote, with one opposing vote and one abstention. It had been tabled during NARUC’s summer meeting but incorporated additional input from the Edison Electric Institute and the Energy Storage Association.

A second resolution, championed by Illinois Commerce Commissioner John Rosales, was tabled by a 17-9 vote. The resolution (EL-3) encourages state and FERC action to preserve the rights of states to support environmental preferences in electricity generation.

“I’m very passionate about this,” Rosales said. “I tried to make it as general as possible but was told there was vagueness. I feel comfortable moving forward with it. It’s timely, and it’s needed.”

Two other resolutions were also tabled to allow continued discussion:

  • CI-1/EL-1/WC-2, which encourages collaboration between state and federal regulators to improve safeguards against cyberthreats to the utility distribution system.
  • EL-2, which urges state and federal commissions and grid operators to require that fuel security and resilience evaluations be included in decisions to build new generation.