The Senate approved the nominations of Texas regulator Patrick Henry Wood III and Pennsylvania regulator Nora Mead Brownell to the two vacant spots on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In interviews with NGI on Friday, Brownell and Wood said they are eager to get to work tackling the energy crisis out West and helping the rest of the country do some advance planning to prevent the crisis from spreading.
Wood, currently chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission, was appointed to the PUC in 1995 by then-Gov. George W. Bush, and was a member of the Bush energy transition team. He will fill out a term at FERC expiring on June 30, 2005. Brownell has been a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission since April 1997. She was named for the remainder of a five year term at FERC expiring on June 30, 2001 and for an additional five-year term ending June 30, 2006.
Wood served as a FERC staffer from 1991-93 and was legal counsel to the chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. Additionally, he was an engineer with Arco Indonesia and an attorney with the law firm of Baker & Botts in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Texas A&M University and Harvard Law School. Brownell currently is president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. Previously, she acted as executive director of the Regional Performing Arts Center in Philadelphia, and served as senior vice president of Meridian Bancorp, Inc.’s corporate affairs unit. A native of Erie, PA, she attended Syracuse University.
“I am delighted and thrilled and excited and honored and not a little bit relieved,” Brownell said in reaction to her nomination being approved. She said she wasn’t a bit surprised at the Senate’s speedy approval. “I think everybody feels a sense of urgency. No matter how you approach this, I think we all feel a sense of urgency of getting everything in place [to address the energy situation] — people at FERC, people at DOE, people in the states — so that we can get moving toward the solutions. People are suffering. While we can’t develop supply overnight, we need to all be working toward the same goal, which is to have a market that is less volatile and to begin to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with these issues over time.”
“[Pat Wood and I] are problem solvers. We’re not partisan. We don’t take stands because it feels good. We work toward solutions. My feeling is that everybody at the state and federal level understands that energy issues are not partisan issues.”
She said her priorities at FERC are to “get to know my colleagues and the team over there even better and start to put together some thinking about how we can bring solutions not only to the western issues but to the whole infrastructure development of the country. We have an economic development obligation and opportunity here.”
She said improving market “transparency” also is one of her priorities. “The fact that a number of people believe there is, in one way or another, manipulation in the market has caused a loss of confidence, and we first really have to restore that confidence. I think that’s a great first step.”
Forging stakeholder relationships was a big part of her regulatory method in Pennsylvania and should be an important part of the way FERC approaches the western market situation, said Brownell. “There’s no magic fix, but the first step is getting to understand each other and the challenges we face so we can forge solutions… In a market that’s fragile, you can’t wait 15 months [for the end of litigation]. [FERC] may need to look for some new ways to do business.”
Pat Wood joked that FERC’s number one priority should be to “pray for rain in the Northwest.” The drought in the Pacific Northwest that has greatly diminished hydroelectric supplies and exacerbated the energy crisis.
On a more serious note, Wood said FERC needs to “expedite” its “investigations into the just and reasonable price levels in California. We need to find something wrong or tell them they are fine and move on. I think we’ve got to move real-time on getting feedback from that marketplace as to the level of pricing that’s appropriate. California has a myriad of issues now that have to be addressed.
“I understand FERC is being sued by the state for some actions. That is going to complicate our abilities to move forward on a broad comprehensive fix, which is what the situation cries for.
“A lot of potentially bad decisions can be made in that kind of environment. I’ve been there,” said Wood. “I’ve been in a bankruptcy with a utility that was going through a lot of trouble when I first got my job [at the Texas PUC] — El Paso Electric. We managed to just come back from the brink and put Humpty Dumpty back together again. It’s amazing we pulled that utility out of a bad situation, but we had in a microcosm the same thing that is going on [in California]: transmission problems, generation problems, financial problems, political problems. California has a whole state’s worth of that, but we’ve got to do the same things there that we did here, which is a comprehensive settlement of both short-term and long-term issues. We can’t do this two summers in a row, certainly not three, without getting the long-term problems patched up too.”
Wood said he’s eager to see the details of the market situation out West. “There are a lot of confidential files there that show a lot of commercial data on a lot of these issues. I’m not saying there are smoking guns there; I’m just saying there are reams of data and I’m actually pretty good at looking at that kind of stuff and trying to put it together. If that’s what it’s going to take to get to just and reasonable rates, I’ll do that. I hoped that market forces would have worked, but they didn’t out there, and we have to get back on track. That’s the big short-term issue.”
Just as important are the other markets in the country, he said, however. They too need to have advanced planning done. Generation and transmission have been “woefully uninvested in over the last decade across the country,” said Wood.
Wood said he believes he will fit in at the Commission “like a hand in a glove.”
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