Published in Energy

Whitmer preparing to fill upcoming vacancy on energy regulatory board

BY Wednesday, December 09, 2020 04:58pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is preparing to appoint her third member to the Michigan Public Service Commission in less than two years as another vacancy is expected by the end of the month.

Commissioner Sally Talberg, a political independent who was appointed to the MPSC by former Gov. Rick Snyder in July 2013, was confirmed last month to an energy regulatory position in Texas effective Jan. 1.

Commissioner Sally Talberg COURTESY PHOTO

Based on state law requiring the three-person MPSC to not include more than two members from the same political party, Talberg’s replacement will either be a Republican or Independent. Whitmer has appointed two Democrats since taking office in January 2019: Chairman Dan Scripps and Commissioner Tremaine Phillips. Whitmer appointed Scripps as chairman in July in anticipation of Talberg’s departure.

“The administration is currently in the process of selecting the best candidate possible to serve in this important role on the Michigan Public Service Commission,” Whitmer Deputy Press Secretary Bobby Leddy said in an email to MiBiz.

In her seven-plus years on the MPSC, including more than four as chair, Talberg has helped oversee a major shift in the electric utility industry to more clean energy and away from large, centralized fossil fuel plants. (The MPSC regulates natural gas, electricity and telecommunications providers.) 

For the past few years, the MPSC has overseen the implementation of sweeping energy reforms passed by lawmakers in late 2016, which involve long-term utility plans and cost recovery during the clean energy transition. Since then, the state’s major investor-owned utilities — Detroit-based DTE Energy and Jackson-based Consumers Energy — have also announced significant clean energy plans that call for eliminating carbon emissions by 2050.

The 2016 energy laws were “significant” as a policy achievement among elected officials, “but also for the Commission, a lot of responsibility was put on it to work out … the process and inclusiveness and working through very difficult issues and setting up things for the future,” Talberg told MiBiz.

In early November, the Public Utility Commission of Texas approved Talberg’s appointment to the board of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the state’s electric grid similar to regional grid operators like the Midcontinent Independent System Operator. 

Although Talberg plans to keep her Michigan residence, the part-time ERCOT board role is a homecoming of sorts. She received her master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas-Austin and was a policy analyst for four years at the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

“It’s exciting to see how things have matured” with Texas’ electric market, which moved to a deregulated structure shortly before Michigan did in 2000, Talberg said. “They have more renewable energy than any state in the nation and are now seeing an influx of solar and batteries. There’s just a lot of change happening there.”

Talberg has yet to submit her formal resignation to Whitmer. The MPSC has one more meeting scheduled on Dec. 17, and is expected to issue a ruling this month in a closely watched Consumers Energy rate case.

Talberg said ongoing major issues before the MPSC include considering Enbridge’s application to build a tunnel for the Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac and ongoing work around the MI Power Grid initiative, a joint effort between the MPSC and Whitmer addressing reliability and infrastructure as the electric industry transitions.

Commission appointees, which are subject to the advice and consent of the state Senate, serve staggered six-year terms.

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