The White House Tuesday named Willie Phillips, a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission commissioner, as acting chairman of the agency.
Phillips, a FERC commissioner since December 2021, replaces Richard Glick, whose tenure ended earlier this month after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., declined to hold a nomination hearing for his second term. FERC, a five-member agency, now has four sitting commissioners, potentially leaving them evenly split on some issues.
Phillips may be cautious in setting broad policy objectives in the near term while serving in an acting capacity, according to ClearView Energy Partners, a research firm. He will likely continue to advance pending rulemakings on regional transmission planning and generator interconnection, and potentially propose others if they are far in the development process, ClearView said in a note Tuesday.
Phillips is the first Black person to lead FERC, which regulates wholesale electricity markets, interstate transmission rates and natural gas pipelines, among other things. He is also the first former state utility regulator to lead the agency since Pat Wood III’s tenure ended in mid-2005. Phillips was chairman of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia before he joined FERC.
“The work we do here at FERC is crucial to ensuring consumers have access to reliable, safe, secure and efficient energy services at reasonable cost,” Phillips said Tuesday in a statement.
Phillips, who was previously an assistant general counsel for the North American Electric Reliability Corp., a grid oversight organization, was unanimously confirmed by an evenly divided Senate last year, a reflection of his qualifications, experience and ability to bridge divides, Manchin said in a statement Tuesday.
“As implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act continues, I look forward to working with Acting Chairman Phillips in his new position as we pursue an all-of-the-above energy policy that will enhance our national and economic security,” Manchin said.
Phillips’ experience at NERC and at the D.C. utility commission “would appear to be particularly useful in managing the challenges of electric transmission infrastructure policy – and the complex relationships with the state regulators that site such lines – as the U.S. Department of Energy prepares to flex new authorities and direct new funding toward this sector,” ClearView said.
However, given Phillips’ “acting” designation, the White House may be considering Glick’s vacant seat for a different chairman, ClearView said, noting former President Donald Trump designated Neil Chatterjee as acting chairman pending the confirmation of Kevin McIntyre.
With Glick’s departure, FERC has two Democratic commissioners, Allison Clements and Phillips, and two Republicans, James Danly and Mark Christie. Danly’s term ends June 30.
During Glick’s two-year tenure as FERC chairman, the agency advanced proposals to spur transmission development, strengthen natural gas pipeline reviews and protect the grid from extreme weather, among other initiatives.
Many of those efforts need to continue as the United States shifts towards more clean energy, Glick said in a letter to President Joe Biden, released Monday.
Besides supporting more transmission capacity, FERC needs to reduce barriers to emerging clean energy technology while making sure the grid can stand up to extreme weather and other physical and cyber threats, according to Glick.
“Reliability must remain front and center of the commission’s priorities,” Glick said.