LaFleur named acting FERC chair

FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur was appointed the commission’s acting chairman by President Barack Obama, FERC announced Nov. 25, and replaces Jon Wellinghoff, who resigned the position May 28.

Wellinghoff served through Sunday, Nov. 24, a FERC spokesperson told TransmissionHub Nov. 25.

LaFleur’s name rose on the list of potential appointments to the chair after Ron Binz withdrew his candidacy Oct. 2 amid controversy over his support for renewable energy as well as his philosophy and approach to his previous position as chair of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. LaFleur is the most junior Democrat on the panel, behind the now-departed Wellinghoff and Commissioner John Norris.

Other names discussed as possible successors to Wellinghoff included Colette Honorable, commissioner with the Arkansas Public Service Commission and newly elected president of the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners (NARUC), Rose McKinney-James, former commissioner with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, and Jim Kerr, former NARUC president.

Unlike appointments to FERC, which must be confirmed by the Senate, the elevation of a sitting commissioner to the position of chair is an administrative action that does not need such confirmation.

LaFleur, who has served on the commission since July 2010, thanked Obama in the Nov. 25 FERC statement announcing her appointment.

“I am honored to lead the commission at a time when the nation is making substantial changes in its energy supply and infrastructure to meet environmental challenges and improve reliability and security,” LaFleur said. “The commission also has important work ahead in implementing [FERC] Order No. 1000, setting transmission rates, and ensuring competitive markets work fairly and effectively for consumers.”

LaFleur serves as the FERC liaison to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Electricity Advisory Committee, is a member of NARUC’s Committee on Electricity and Committee on Critical Infrastructure, and co-chaired the FERC/NARUC Forum on Reliability and the Environment.

LaFleur’s current appointment expires June 30, 2014, after which she would need to be reappointed to FERC and again face Senate confirmation if she is to continue to serve on the panel.

For his part, Norris, who was passed over for the chair in favor of Binz, spoke well of his fellow commissioner and her new position.

“Cheryl’s valuable experience as a utility executive will make her an effective chair,” Norris told TransmissionHub Nov. 25. “She has been a champion for reliability, particularly bringing a focus on threats associated with cyber security, geomagnetic disturbances and the coordination of the electric and gas industries.”

Wellinghoff’s departure leaves a vacant seat on the panel, and any appointee will be subject to hearings by the Senate Commission on Energy and Natural Resources, and confirmation by the full Senate. His departure also leaves the panel evenly split between Republican and Democratic commissioners. FERC rules state that no more than three sitting commissioners can be from the same political party.

Wellinghoff will join the energy practice of the West Coast law firm of Stoel Rives, the law firm announced Oct. 21.