FERC Commissioner Robert Powelson announced June 28, after less than a year on the job, that he is leaving the Commission to become the president and CEO of the National Association of Water Companies. Powelson said he plans to leave the Commission mid-August.
Powelson’s departure will leave the Commission with two Republicans – Kevin McIntyre and Neil Chatterjee – and two Democrats – Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick.
Powelson, a former member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), along with Neil Chatterjee, was sworn in at FERC in August 2017, after the Commission was left without a quorum following the February 2017 resignation of former Chairman Norman Bay.
Powelson had been at the PUC since June of 2008, including four years as chairman from early 2011 to the middle of 2015. In 2011, he served on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which reviewed state laws, regulations, and policies to develop a proposal for the responsible and environmentally sound development of Marcellus Shale resources.
He also was president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), taking that role for what was expected to be a one-year stint in November 2016.
“It is obviously a loss for the FERC” as Powelson was a “great commissioner” in the short time he served, said Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the American Gas Association. His departure is also a loss for the natural gas industry as Powelson “has been an outspoken advocate” for natural gas and the benefits of Marcellus Shale production in Pennsylvania, McCurdy noted June 29 on the sidelines of the World Gas Conference.
The announcement was “a bit of a surprise,” but should be considered a gain for the water sector, which faces challenging issues and will benefit from the intellect and skills Powelson brings based on his experience as a regulator, McCurdy said.
In the past, some in the energy industry put weight on a commissioner’s regional background prior to being nominated for a position at FERC, with interest in having representation from different sectors. Following the California energy crisis and the different structure of the western power markets compared with more organized markets in the East and Midwest, representation at FERC by someone familiar with western issues was viewed as important, while others did not believe a regional background was important, since FERC commissioners oversee markets for the nation as a whole.
In terms of a replacement for Powelson, “it’s up to the White House,” McCurdy said, though he added “the Senate will play a role” in the confirmation process. McCurdy said he hopes the White House nominates someone with experience or an understanding of the energy sector.
For the natural gas industry, “we have important issues on pipeline siting” as FERC considers a Notice of Inquiry on its pipeline certificate policy statement, and decisions on siting of LNG export facilities, McCurdy said.
AGA has been pleased with the leadership at FERC since the quorum was restored in August of 2017, and “I hope they don’t have a vacancy very long,” he said.
By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com
 For more information, see, Chatterjee and Powelson Sworn In at FERC, Chatterjee Named Chairman, FR No. 3161, pp. 1-3.