Outgoing FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff – a tribute

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By: SGN Staff

Quick Take: I still remember the first time I heard Jon Wellinghoff speak. This was years ago, before he became chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. I was part of an invitation only group that had spent the last two days with various legislators, energy officials and federal bureaucrats. Let's just say that I had been less than impressed. So when I heard Jon's cogent remarks, they stood out in stark contrast. He really did "get it."

 

I didn't always agree with Jon – he would sometimes leave comments on Smart Grid News to lead a different perspective – but I always thought he was one of the most valuable and effective federal officials of the past decade.

 

When Ahmad Faruqui sent a short tribute to a private mailing list, I asked if we could reproduce it here. I concur completely with his comments. - By Jesse Berst

 

By Ahmad Faruqui

 

Throughout his tenure at FERC, which began when he was appointed a commissioner in 2006 and which continued when he was appointed chairman, Jon Wellinghoff laid out a clear and consistent vision for transforming the US power system into a clean and efficient machine that would integrate well with newly emerging resources such as demand response and renewable energy.  He believed that this would raise load factors, lower costs for all customers, further the elusive goal of energy independence and lead to cleaner air.

 

He set about with vigor to achieving that vision.  Under Jon’s leadership, we saw the development and Congressional submittal of the National Assessment of Demand Response Potential and the development and Congressional submittal of the National Action Plan for Demand Response.  I was privileged to have worked on both along with several other professionals. 

 

It was always a pleasure to see him in the Sunday morning sessions at periodic NARUC meetings.  It always amazed me how many people were in the room.  They had forgone the pleasures of sleeping in late to listen to Jon’s dialogues with state commissioners.

 

Of course, during his tenure, he stepped over some toes.  He was no stranger to controversy nor was he immune to criticism.  But that is the price all great men pay for actively seeking to achieve their agenda.

 

From a personal perspective, I commend him for supporting so vocally and eloquently the cause of dynamic pricing, universally acknowledged by economists to be the best form of demand response. Other commissioners before him had championed it at the state level – most notably Michael Peevey, Rachelle Chong and Dian Gruenich in California, Rick Morgan in the District of Columbia, Bob Lieberman and Paul Sherman in Illinois and Paul Centolella in Ohio

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But it was during Wellinghoff’s tenure at FERC that dynamic pricing found a voice on the national stage. In a few words, he summed up why the United States needed to pursue dynamic pricing, as reported in The Energy Collective

 

"If we want our nation's energy system to remain efficient, we need to align prices with the costs of production. With a new transparent pricing environment, an array of businesses and aggregators can provide automated services that will control consumer loads. In sum, the new opportunity in energy is to align the [consumer] price with the real wholesale price."  He added that this will "enable loads like water heaters, refrigerators, and EVs to adapt to pricing. This is the challenge for the entire smart grid and cleantech industry."  He exhorted those in the utility industry to "unleash the information [and] unleash the power."

 

Jon’s successor, regardless of how capable he or she is, will have a difficult time filling his shoes.  The bar has been set very high.  And, in my view, that is a good thing.

 

Dr. Ahmad Faruqui is an economist who specializes in smart grid strategies involving the consumer and a principal at The Brattle Group. He has led the conceptualization, design, analysis and evaluation of a wide range of programs including dynamic pricing, demand response, energy efficiency and newly emerging technologies, such as plug-in electric vehicles, rooftop solar, and distributed generation.

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