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Commission controversy in DC

Today, three members of the DC Council (Cheh, Allen and McDuffie) appeared in a public round table – the date and time of which was only announced last Wednesday, on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday. The hearing was contentious yet constructive, in spite of the short notice and the cloud of controversy. At stake are two confirmations to the Public Service Commission, the body which among other things regulates electric power and gas in the District.

Why do these seats matter and who is the council considering

Two Commission confirmations have come up, and these new appointments are crucial for shaping a clean energy vision for DC. The DC mayor’s office has picked candidates, and today a panel of DC Council members took public input on them and interviewed the candidates in front of the assembled audience. Willie Phillips, currently already serving as a Commissioner, is up for Chair of the PSC, and Greer Gillis, who specializes in transportation and currently heads up the Department of General Services, is a candidate for the commission.

What qualities should we seek in these nominees? It’s 2018, and we know what an urgent problem climate disruption is now. We need leadership to make the extensive improvements that will build the smart grid that we need, a grid that can handle larger amounts of renewable energy. But at the moment, it’s unclear whether the nominees that Mayor Bowser put forward have the technical understanding or are suited to the quasi-judicial world of utility policy to forge a just clean energy future for DC.

Criticisms of the nominees

Among the speakers who gave comments in the round table today, some common themes emerged. Witnesses representing organizations and giving testimony as individuals largely expressed opposition to the Council confirming Phillips and Gillis. In fact, speakers not supporting the nominees outnumbered speakers who favor these candidates. Environmental and energy justice advocates as well as consumer and faith groups pointed to Phillips’ energy company-friendly past actions in order to question whether he would ask utilities tough questions.

More than one speaker also displayed concern that Gillis, while talented as a manager and knowledgeable in many issue areas, does not seem to be familiar with electric regulation and energy policy to the level of detail that a PSC Commission should be. For community members who have been involved in working to advance the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act and are pursuing local climate solutions while making sure that low-income customers don’t feel impacts that they can’t bear, there are red flags that both nominees could hinder the chances of passing this bill in a strong form.

What residents and organizations can do

Many advocates who spoke today talked about the significant stakeholder process they had been looking since the spring of this year. Teams of advocates have conducted interviews and collected recommendations to identify better candidates for the PSC seats. This effort yielded four candidates that speakers said boast a background that matches better with what DC needs now to become a top market for clean energy development, including having worked in the forward-thinking and advanced energy market of Southern California piloting the kind of programs that DC can try. Yet, apparently the mayor had other people in mind for these positions of new commissioner and chair.

Feel free to use this link to send a message to the DC City Council – ideas for what to say include asking for another hearing on these nominees with a full 15 days of notice, asking that they recommend that the mayor reconsider those she nominated, or simply express your opposition to confirming these individuals for these positions at this time.

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