Jon Wellinghoff, whose term as FERC Chairman is due to expire June 30, has submitted a letter of resignation to President Obama, a spokesman said Wednesday.

“He will remain at the Commission until a replacement is nominated and confirmed by the Senate,” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) spokesman Craig Cano told NGI. “He will continue as Chairman and vote on matters before the Commission.” Federal law allows him to stay in office until the end of the current Congressional term later this year.

Wellinghoff was first appointed to FERC in 2006 and was named Chairman by Obama in 2009. Prior to joining FERC, he was an attorney with a private practice that focused exclusively on client matters related to renewable energy, energy efficiency and distributed generation. He served two terms as Nevada’s first Consumer Advocate for Customers of Public Utilities and authored the first comprehensive state utility integrated planning statute.

The chairman’s priorities have centered around bringing the power grid up to date, including integration of renewable energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydrokinetic energy, and the implementation of advanced technologies to make the use and distribution of energy more efficient, such as “demand response” and “smart grid” technologies.

During Wellinghoff’s tenure, FERC has gone after the trading desks of several large Wall Street banks, including Deutche Bank, Barclays Bank and an affiliate of JPMorgan and Chase (JP Morgan Ventures Energy), for manipulating electricity markets.

In the natural gas market, the largest civil penalty was assessed against Brian Hunter, former head gas trader at Amaranth, which made a number of wrong-way trades that led to more than $6 billion in gas trading losses and the collapse of the hedge fund in September 2006 (see NGI, April 8; March 18; April 25, 2011). A $30 million penalty, which is still pending in court, was one of the largest imposed on a gas trader since the passage of EPAct 2005.

FERC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) sparred over jurisdictional lines, with Wellinghoff calling on lawmakers in Congress to resolve the issue (see NGI, March 15, 2010).

Wellinghoff also has been a vocal advocate for increased cyber security, expressing his exasperation with the lack of a federal system for reporting threats to energy infrastructure (see NGI, Sept. 10, 2012). In 2012, Wellinghoff announced the creation of an office at the agency to focus on cyber and physical security risks to energy facilities under its jurisdiction, such as interstate natural gas pipelines, gas storage and electric transmission facilities (see NGI, Sept. 24, 2012).

Ron Wyden (D-OR), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Wellinghoff’s “expertise and leadership” will be missed. “Under Chairman Wellinghoff’s leadership, FERC launched important investigations to protect consumers against traders and financial firms who manipulated energy markets. While we disagreed on electric transmission siting issues, he deserves credit for championing efforts to increase America’s renewable energy supply.”

Any changes in FERC’s direction “may take some time to evolve” after Wellinghoff’s departure, said analysts with ClearView Energy Partners LLC in Washington, DC. Possible successors include either of the two Democrats already on the Commission — Jon Norris or Cheryl LaFleur — and a long list of regulators at the state level, including Arkansas Public Service Commission Chairman Colette Honorable, who the White House reportedly considered for a seat on the Commission three years ago (see NGI, Jan. 11, 2010).

“How fast the administration moves and who it chooses for the seat could be another indication of whether the White House is still pursuing its ‘give a little, take a little’ energy strategy,” the Clearview analysts said.

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