Obama taps Binz for electric grid chief

President Obama nominated Ron Binz to become the nation’s top electric grid regulator, the White House announced Thursday night.

Binz, a former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, would replace Jon Wellinghoff atop the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission if confirmed. Wellinghoff announced his resignation last month, though his term is up June 30.

If confirmed, the Democrat would likely continue many of the renewable energy- and energy efficiency-focused work that Wellinghoff advanced during his time at FERC.

But he comes with a bit of baggage that might complicate his nomination with Republicans.

He resigned his Colorado post in 2011 amid attacks from the mining industry and Republican state legislators.

Mining interests charged that Binz presided over decisions in which he had a conflict of interest. No foul play was ever determined.

State Republicans filed ethics complaints against Binz for accepting travel reimbursement from a natural gas firm to speak at a conference. An independent commission found Binz had received payment, but didn’t personally benefit from it and therefore didn’t violate any laws.

Binz is currently a principal at Public Policy Consulting. He's also a senior policy adviser with Colorado State University's Center for the New Energy Economy. 

While leading Colorado's regulatory agency, Binz advocated for electricity rate changes to promote deployment of renewable energy. Like Wellinghoff, he’s been an advocate of demand response, in which utilities pay consumers to ramp down power use during times of peak demand.

And coming from the West, Binz would be poised to oversee changes rolled out under Wellinghoff that clear hurdles for siting and financing large electric infrastructure projects.

The new rule, Order No. 1000, allows planners to more easily spread costs for building transmission lines.

Those cables carry bulk power from distant sources of generation — such as wind and solar farms — to more densely populated areas. Many of those projects are planned in the West.

Updated at 10:55 p.m.