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Energy People: Rob Powelson

We talked with NARUC President, Commissioner Rob Powelson

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2017
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Commissioner Powelson was installed as the 128th president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in November 2016. He serves as a commissioner on the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission. He was Chairman of the Pennsylvania PUC from 2011 to 2015. As NARUC president, Powelson's duties include providing general oversight of the Association; serving as NARUC's primary voice; and representing NARUC before Congress, the courts and administrative agencies. His theme for this coming year is Infrastructure, Innovation, and Investment: Driving the Future of Regulation. This PUF interview took place before the February 2017 NARUC meeting in Washington, D.C.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: Commissioner, it must be exciting to be taking the reins of NARUC. What are your top priorities
or initiatives?

Commissioner Rob Powelson: I have an agenda that addresses infrastructure and innovation both in front of and behind the meter. I've also rolled out the concept of investment.

We talk about investment in the workforce, and the human capital aspect of the utility world. I think the infrastructure piece is one that dovetails with the President's desire to see a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill.

When we talk about infrastructure investment, most people talk in terms of the intermodal investment. That includes roads, bridges, ports, networks, and rail systems.

That's got to be part of the discussion. However, as public utility commissioners we are dealing with reliability, affordability, and power plant construction in some markets. As well as integration of renewables, water infrastructure, and other cleantech investments. Let's not lose sight of the fact that we've got to have a loud and clear, unified voice.

We just came off a great success in the last Congress with the passage of the Safe Pipes Act, that is, Pipeline Safety Reauthorization. A lot of members of Congress recognize how important it is to have investment in gas safety at the distribution level. That includes Chairman Shuster, the Chairman of the House Infrastructure Committee, and Congressman Lou Barletta as well.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: It's impressive that NARUC, which is the voice for consumers of utility services, is speaking so strongly on behalf of investment. As opposed to other times when we might be talking about trying to slow down costs and so forth. This is a special time, with a new administration. Why do you think that is?

Commissioner Rob Powelson: Economics is what's driving it. What better time to have infrastructure build than in a low interest rate environment? We've got an environment that's very low cost right now because of cheap natural gas.

From a risk tolerance perspective, you couldn't have picked a better time in which to tee up a conversation about energy infrastructure.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: Now, is there a challenge to this? We've heard in recent days in Washington, some concerns from the Republican majorities in Congress about similarities to the large investment by the federal government in 2009. As well as concerns about the national debt.

How do you think NARUC will distinguish 2017 from 2009?

Commissioner Rob Powelson:

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