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Former FERC Chairman 'Puts Name on the Line' for Energy Infrastructure Projects

Months after shedding his role as the top federal energy regulator, former FERC Chairman Pat Wood is partnering with industry to develop energy infrastructure projects that he supports.

"After 10 years of talking about it, I'm out here putting my name on the line for it," said Wood during a telephone interview with NGI last Tuesday. He left FERC in July 2005. "It's time to start walking it...I'm getting involved in ground-floor projects that are getting infrastructure built in the generation, transmission and the LNG side."

As for the liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects, "I can't talk about any of them just yet," Wood said. "They're all under confidentiality agreements... [It's] not anyone you've heard of yet." He said he wasn't involved in any natural gas pipeline projects. "They're in good shape. They don't need much elbow grease from me."

His most recent venture involves Chicago-based Airtricity Inc., a producer of wind power for the Texas market. Wood has been named chairman of the company's North American Advisory Board. He will provide advice and strategic counsel to Airtricity CEO Eddie O'Connor and his team in Chicago and Austin, TX. Prior to joining FERC in mid-2001, Wood was a Texas regulator and was instrumental in getting a renewable portfolio standard set up in the Lone Star State, making the state ripe for wind power.

By this time next year, "Texas will be the No. 1 wind state in the country," he told NGI. Airtricity last year announced plans to invest $1.5 billion by 2010 in the North American market. It intends to build 215 MW of wind generators in Texas this year, and around 400 MW of wind power next year in the state.

Even in the late 1990s when "the economics were not as favorable for renewable as they are now, it was just stunning...how interested and willing people [in Texas] were to pay a little more to get renewable power," Wood said.

"Wind is big news...in every country," including the United States, said O'Connor, who set up Future Wind Partnership in Dublin, Ireland in 1997, and two years later adopted the name Airtricity to appeal to the retail market. "We've had an explosion in wind energy in 2005," he noted, adding that a total of 12,000 MW of facilities were installed last year and 8,000 MW in 2004. O'Connor said his company has focused on wind power because it's the most commercial of the renewables, and eventually plans to enter the retail market in the U.S.

"Pat Wood, when he was chairman of the [Texas] Public Utilities Commission, set up one of the truly open systems in the world in Texas. There's only two actual places where you can...consider being a retailer -- one is in the United Kingdom and the other is Texas," O'Connor said.

Last September, Wood also was named an independent director of SunPower Corp., a solar power company that went public in 2005.

The former FERC chairman, who lives in Houston now, said he doesn't regret leaving Washington, DC and, in fact, hasn't returned once since he left last summer. Nor has he kept tabs on Commission proceedings. "I think they were a pretty sharp team when I left. Part of the job of the guy who walks out the door is don't look back, and even if you look back, don't open your mouth."

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