Maria Duaime Robinson, a Massachusetts state representative, is among the frontrunners to replace Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, sources confirm.
Though a final nominee has not yet been announced, Robinson has been vetted by the White House and is considered a favorite among some in the renewable energy industry and among competitive power interests, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the nominee. Before serving as a state representative, Robinson led Advanced Energy Economy's (AEE) wholesale market work.
Chatterjee's departure marks an opportunity for the White House to flip FERC's majority from Republican to Democrat, and the change could be decisive in how the commission votes on gas infrastructure and distributed energy resource (DER) integration in particular, sources say.
FERC's next commissioner will be a crucial swing vote on several key issues, including implementing its landmark order lowering barriers to DERs and the commission's proceeding on revisiting its 1999 gas pipeline policy statement.
FERC's existing commissioners are at odds over the DER order — Order 2222.
On Order 2222, the commission's ruling lowering barriers for DERs in wholesale markets, there has been some back and forth among commissioners. Commissioner James Danly dissented on the original September order, and Commissioner Mark Christie has also expressed concerns that the order oversteps FERC's authority in that it forces states to implement market changes he believes will be costly.
A critical question on state implementation is whether the commission will eliminate a provision that lets states opt-out of allowing demand response aggregations to bid into wholesale markets.
For the clean energy industry, eliminating that opt-out and ensuring Order 2222 is implemented in a way that lowers market barriers to all DERs are crucial. Robinson's background at AEE and her previous work in renewables procurement for Navigant Consulting make her a good candidate to ensure policies like Order 2222 move forward, said one source in the renewable energy industry.
Robinson's nomination "would show that the administration understands how important appointing a FERC commissioner with a demonstrated record of unwavering commitment to the clean energy transition is to its overall climate agenda," the source said. "Commissioners Christie and Danly would clearly reverse Order No. 2222, and it stands to reason that at least some of the rumored nominees could agree with them."
Further, the commission has a key decision on pipelines coming up, where a fifth commissioner could be a critical vote: Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated a FERC order granting the Spire STL pipeline project license to operate. The commission will have to decide whether to reapprove the existing pipeline or find that its decision was in error and shut it down.
Whoever the White House brings forward will need to get through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Democrats on the committee — led by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — have differing priorities, sources say.
Several other names have been floated to fill Chatterjee's seat, including Willie Phillips, the chairman of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia; Lauren Azar, who previously served as a senior adviser to former Energy Secretary Steven Chu and before that was a Wisconsin Public Service Commissioner; and Tom Dalzell, a former International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 Business Manager.
A spokesperson for Manchin's office said they had no update on the nominee.