VIEWPOINT: What You Should Know About Today’s Heated Debate Over Ron Binz

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"VIEWPOINT: What You Should Know About Today’s Heated Debate Over Ron Binz"

Ron Binz in 2011. (Credit: Kathleen Lavine / Business Journal)

Ron Binz in 2011. (Credit: Kathleen Lavine / Business Journal)

After a nomination that has drawn an unprecedented amount of attention, Ron Binz, a former regulator from Colorado, will face the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday as they consider him for the next chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

Binz has become a lightning rod for partisan debate since he was nominated by President Obama in June to head the agency charged with protecting consumers and strengthening our nation’s energy system. In addition to opposition from the fossil fuel industry, Binz has become the target of a coalition of conservative groups, led by the Koch-funded American Energy Alliance.

This is yet another time when AEA has come out against the mainstream view of Americans. For example, last year they made opposing the production tax credit for wind a priority. (Fortunately for the near-term future of clean energy, they failed). The group also spent $1.3 million opposing President Obama in the 2012 campaign, according to Open Secrets.

Despite these attacks, utilities, former regulators, renewable energy companies, investors, and more are all aligned in support of Binz.

The next FERC chair will face a wide range of challenges. Rapidly changing energy technologies and utility business models call for a chair who’s interested in developing regulatory models that meet these new challenges. The new chair should be thinking about how climate change is affecting the energy system, and be preparing our energy system for an inevitable future of very low reliance on fossil fuels. FERC has recently issued record fines against companies that have cheated consumers and other businesses out of hundreds of millions of dollars, and the new chair should continue this important work.

Binz’s record shows that he’s up to the task. He’s a leading thinker on utility regulation. He helped Colorado switch to a lower-carbon energy mix while saving consumers money. And, he was an early leader in advocating for power market designs that would prevent manipulation.

Binz strong record has attracted a diverse range of supporters.

Twelve former FERC commissioners recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Binz has an impressive 34-year career in energy policy. If the Senate confirms him, we think he will be a fair and impartial judge and further the public interest within the FERC’s authority.”

Ralph Izzo, the CEO and President of a New Jersey utility PSEG, said, “The electric industry is experiencing rapid change and technological advances and Ron Binz is a strong and timely choice to lead FERC. Ron has both the experience and intellect to hit the ground running and ensure thoughtful consideration of emerging opportunities.”

According to Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres and a director of a group of 100 institutional investors managing nearly $10 trillion in assets focused on the business risks and opportunities of climate change,

“As chair of Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission between 2007 and 2011, Binz guided the state through a set of important energy policy decisions, including implementation of the state’s bipartisan Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. The bill phases out 900 megawatts of some of Colorado’s dirtiest power sources, replacing it with cleaner alternatives over a 12-year period. At the same time, it sets stronger pollution standards for plants that continue to operate. The result is an estimated $200 million per year in public health benefits, paid for by a minor two-percent annual rate increase.

This remarkable energy transition has little to do with any plot against Colorado’s coal-fired power plants. It has a lot more to do with economics, smart planning, and prudent risk management.”

Rob Gramlich, senior vice president of energy policy for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said, “Ron Binz has the temperament and experience needed to lead FERC and continue the agency’s important initiatives to expand and modernize the nation’s electricity infrastructure.”

Richard Caperton is the Managing Director of the Energy team at the Center for American Progress.

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