A Day at Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
Jan Freeman is Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
Steve Mitnick is Editor-in-Chief of Public Utilities Fortnightly and author of the book “Lines Down: How We Pay, Use, Value Grid Electricity Amid the Storm.”
Jan Freeman: In its simplest form, I think about an inverted pyramid. You’ve got the entire organization, the majority of the people at the top of the pyramid. My job, at the bottom of the pyramid, is to make sure that the staff has the ability and resources to do their job, and do it well, every day. The critical component of this commission is the staff.
My job is also to keep things running day-to-day – making sure that we have an adequate staffing level, and that there’s clarity in the staff roles in terms of the mission and the vision for the commission.
It’s also so important to understand your own contribution, and the staff’s contribution to the overall output of this commission. I enjoy the challenges that are facing this commission, our staff and myself. My small part is to make sure it all runs as smoothly as possible.
PUF: What are the toughest challenges that you have?
Jan Freeman: Right now we’re looking at an aging workforce. We have many talented people, many of whom are baby boomers, leaving the commission with years of intellectual knowledge and experience. The challenge is to get good people to fill the empty seats.
We need to make sure we continue to provide high quality work products. It is important to keep the flow of qualified people coming into the commission, giving them the tools, resources and training necessary to do their jobs. When I leave this job, I want to make sure that we are well situated with the necessary physical and human resources, so that we can continue to get the job done.
PUF: Can you attract the best and the brightest, or do all these younger people want to go to Google and Amazon?
Jan Freeman: I don’t know about that. I do know that the people we get here are certainly bright and are some of the best people that I’ve ever met. I’m surprised every day about the kind of knowledge and ideas that are being generated by our folks.
Back in 2011, under former Chairman Powelson’s leadership, we created an Emerging Leaders program. We select between ten and twenty people every couple of years and bring them into a nine month long professional development program. We prepare them, by giving them the skills, tools and coaching necessary to be able to become the future leaders of this commission. It has been a very successful program.
As part of that program, they have produced projects and reports that have been utilized by the commission — one of which was very timely. We are currently taking over the enforcement of the PA One Call program, and as part of this Emerging Leaders program, one of the teams provided an implementation plan for this new responsibility. That’s just an example of looking to the future and making sure we are well staffed and well trained.
PUF: You’ve been executive director for a few years. But you weren’t new to the utilities industry. You’ve been involved for a little bit.
Jan Freeman: Probably more than a little bit. My career started out in the utility consulting business, preparing financial and engineering exhibits and testifying in rate cases. Then I moved on to running the state energy office here in Pennsylvania.
My career finally took me to the electric and gas utility industry, where I spent twenty years prior to coming here. I’ve seen the utility industry from both the private and public sectors. I think I have a good appreciation of the needs of both.
I feel very fortunate that towards the end of my career, I’ve had a chance to put all my experience and knowledge together and be working in state government again. As executive director, I take my direction from five appointed commissioners.
The commission has a staff of five hundred people with a majority reporting up through me to the five commissioners. We’ve got talented people — a dozen bureau directors, their managers, supervisors, and staff — who make it all happen.
PUF: Did you have some key mentors? Or individuals that helped you along the way, who made a big difference?
Jan Freeman: Yes. One gentleman comes to mind. His name is Henry Fick. He ran the utility consulting firm Weber, Fick and Wilson. I was fortunate to work for him during the summers while I was in college, and was hired full time after graduation. He instilled in me a strong work ethic, the need to get involved, and to really connect with the utility industry.
Some may find it hard to believe, but I have always thought the utility industry fascinating. Electric, gas, water, telecommunications. I’ve had the opportunity to work in all those industries and I’ve found although there are many differences, there are also many similarities.
PUF: How did you find your way to this position at the commission?
Jan Freeman: I spent considerable time in state government in the ’80s. I was fortunate to be hired at PECO, which later became part of Exelon, by another great mentor, Nick DeBenedictis. He is well known within Pennsylvania state government and in utility industry circles. Following the end of my career at Exelon, I was offered the position of executive director of the Pennsylvania PUC.
PUF: The Pennsylvania PUC has historically been one of the leading agencies nationally. You’re one of the big energy states. How do you view your leadership role?
Jan Freeman: You talk about energy history. We go back to the Shippingport Atomic Power Station in western Pennsylvania — the world’s first commercial nuclear reactor. And our large coal and natural gas reserves continue to serve this state and the nation.
We were one of the first states to adopt retail electric and natural gas competition, in the late 1990s. We are very proud of the competitive marketplace that we have created for electricity and natural gas. We want to continue nurturing those markets. It’s been a good run so far, and we hope that Pennsylvania will continue to be at the forefront of all the energy issues.
PUF: Apparently, there’s a lot of prep work going on here, now, preparing for the public meeting week.
Jan Freeman: Yes, it is a busy place preparing for our regular public meetings. For each public meeting, a lot of effort goes into it by both commission staff and commissioner staff.
In addition to the public meetings, where decisions are made by the commissioners on the myriad issues that come before them, we are constantly examining and doing research on emerging utility issues.
Part of my job is to help inform others and try to keep track of trends that are evolving within the utility industry. We also want to know what other states are doing and to track what’s happening nationally, and how it might impact our state.
PUF: You see your role as a thought leader, thought stimulator.
Jan Freeman: I think it’s not just my responsibility, but the responsibility of everyone here at the commission to think about some of the emerging issues. Whether it’s around grid resiliency, energy efficiency, renewables, utility affordability, safety or emerging technologies, we want to anticipate where we might be going in the future.
I think that the more information and knowledge we have about the utility industry, the better the commission is positioned to anticipate, respond, and manage whatever challenges may come before us.
All interviews for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission:
- Gladys Brown, Chair, Pennsylvania PUC
- Andrew Place, Vice Chair of Pennsylvania PUC
- John Coleman, Pennsylvania Utility Commissioner
- David Sweet, Pennsylvania Utility Commissioner
- Norman Kennard, Pennsylvania Utility Commissioner
- Jan Freeman, Executive Director, Pennsylvania PUC
- Buck Pankiw, Chief Counsel, Pennsylvania PUC
- Rosemary Chiavetta, Secretary, Pennsylvania PUC
- Paul Diskin, Director, Bureau of Technical Utility Services, Pennsylvania PUC
- Dan Mumford, Director, Office of Competitive Market Oversight, Pennsylvania PUC