Obama nominates Colorado consultant Binz to be FERC chairman

Ronald Binz

President Obama has nominated Colorado consultant and former utility regulator Ronald J. Binz to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with the intention to name Binz chairman once he is confirmed by the Senate.

If approved, Binz would succeed FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff who submitted his resignation to the president in May. The White House asked Wellinghoff, Democrat, to continue in office as chairman until his successor can be confirmed. Although Wellinghoff's term expired June 30, a departing commissioner may continue to serve until the end of the current congressional session if no successor has been seated.

Binz, a Democrat, has been principal of Public Policy Consulting since resigning from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in 2011. He has consulted in energy and telecommunications markets with a focus on climate, clean technology, integrated resource planning, and smart grids.

A proponent of renewable energy, Binz served as chairman of the Colorado PUC from 2007 to 2011 during which he helped implement Colorado's contentious Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. The act offered incentives for closing aging coal-fired power plants and switching to gas-fired generation. The PUC approved closure of six coal plants, as well as the addition of pollution controls at two more and the construction of new natural gas plants at a cost of about $1 billion.

Two days before nominating Binz on June 27, Obama unveiled a climate change plan aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions by existing power plants, which is expected to have a significant effect on power generation, especially coal.

Although little information is readily available on Binz's opinions on hydroelectric power, he did support Colorado's renewable energy portfolio standard that included small hydropower.

In discussion of federal utility carbon cap-and-trade legislation in 2010, Binz told an interviewer that utilities should not be allowed to exclude existing hydropower from their base amount of electricity when calculating the amount of renewable energy they must obtain, meaning those utilities would have to acquire additional non-carbon-producing generation despite their already lower-carbon portfolio.

No more than three members of the same party may serve on the five-member commission. The other two Democrats on the commission are John Norris, whose term expires in 2017, and Cheryl LaFleur, whose term expires in 2014. Republicans on the panel are Philip Moeller, whose term expires in 2015, and Anthony Clark, whose term expires in 2016.

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