The composition and leadership of the New York Public Service Commission is in flux. In a swift move at the end of the legislative session Audrey Zibelman was nominated by the Governor to be a Commissioner of the New York Public Service Commission, replacing Commissioner James Larocca, who is serving at will after the expiration of his term.
In addition, she will be designated to be the new Chair of the Commission, replacing current Chairman Garry Brown in that role. See Times Union Capitol Confidential, New PSC commissioner candidate spills beans about chair post, and Senate breezes through confirmations, June 19, 2013.
It is not clear whether or for how long Commissioner Brown will continue to serve on the Commission after the mantle of Chairmanship is shifted. There is also a vacancy on the Commission due to the recent resignation of Commissioner Maureen Harris.
Zibelman comes with much energy and utility experience. According to the Governor’s press release,
Ms. Zibelman is a Founder and was President and Chief Executive Officer of Viridity Energy, Inc., which she formed after more than 25 years of electric utility industry leadership experience in both the public and private sectors. Ms. Zibelman is a recognized national and international expert in energy policy, markets and Smart Grid innovation. Previously, Ms. Zibelman was the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of PJM, a Regional Transmission Organization that operates the world’s largest wholesale power market and serves 14 states throughout the eastern United States. Ms. Zibelman also held executive positions at Xcel Energy, served as General Counsel to the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, and as Special Assistant Attorney General in the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.
In an upbeat note, she is quoted in the press release as saying it is her goal for New York to become “the platinum standard for delivering reliable, affordable, resilient and clean energy services.” The emphasis on affordability, rare at the Public Service Commission, is heartening. According to Bloomberg Business Week, she has seen the effects of poverty at close range.
Audrey Zibelman spent two years in the Peace Corps in the late 1970s, working in a village in Chad which had no electricity. She was struck by how the lack of power exacerbated poverty. “For these people I was living with, about 80 to 90 percent of their day was spent just on staying alive,” she recalls.
Perhaps some of that experience in Chad — which is ranked 163rd out of 169 countries on the 2010 United Nations Human Development (UNDP) Human Development Index — will come to bear in New York on neglected universal service and affordability issues. For example, telephone penetration in low income households is sagging, more than 200,000 Con Edison customers are threatened with shutoff each month due to unpaid bills, and around 300,000 New York residential customers, and their families, experience interruption of service each year as a bill collection measure.
On an encouraging note, the Governor’s Press Release states that “she will be an aggressive regulator and strong advocate for New York’s ratepayers.” The concern expressed for customers is welcome. Historically, the role of the New York Commission has at times lacked focus on doing justice for consumers. For example, in 1932, former New York Governor and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described his vision of the PSC:
When I became Governor, I found that the Public Service Commission of the State of New York had adopted the unwarranted and unsound view that its sole function was to act as an arbitrator or a court of some kind between the public on the one side and the utility corporations on the other. I thereupon laid down a principle which created horror and havoc among the Insulls and other magnates of that type.
I declared that the Public Service Commission is not a mere judicial body to act solely as umpire between complaining consumer or the complaining investor on the one hand, and the great public utility system on the other hand. I declared that, as the agent of the Legislature, the Public Service Commission had, and has, a definitely delegated authority and duty to act as the agent of the public themselves; that it is not a mere arbitrator as between the people and the public utilities, but was created for the purpose of seeing that the public utilities do two things: first, give adequate service; second, charge reasonable rates; that, in performing this function, it must act as agent of the public, upon its own initiative as well as upon petition, to investigate the acts of public utilities relative to service and rates, and to enforce adequate service and reasonable rates.
The regulating commission, my friends, must be a Tribune of the people, putting its engineering, its accounting and its legal resources into the breach for the purpose of getting the facts and doing justice to both the consumers and investors in public utilities.
For background on prior PSC appointments, see
- Greg Sayre Confirmed as New PSC Commissioner
- State Senate Begins Review of PSC Nominees
- Governor Paterson Renominates Two PSC Commissioners;
- In a New York Minute, Governor Paterson Appoints and Senate Confirms James Larocca as New PSC Commissioner;
- Public Interest Coalition Urges Transparency in Selection Process for PSC Commissioners;
- Will Governor Paterson Repurpose the Public Service Commission to Protect Consumers?
- More New PSC Commissioners Coming Soon?;
- Governor Spitzer Nominates NYISO Executive for PSC Post.