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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Questions arise about Governor Raimondo’s energy post appointments

Whose interests will they serve?

Image result for nicholas ucci rhode island
Nicholas Ucci
Last week Governor Gina Raimondo named three people to leadership positions on her state energy team: Nicholas Ucci as State Energy CommissionerLinda George as Administrator of the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC); and Ronald Gerwatowski as Chair of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The Governor will submit their names to the Rhode Island Senate on Tuesday, January 14 for advice and consent.

After the names are officially submitted, the Senate will schedule hearings to approve or deny the nominations as part of their mandate to provide “advice and consent.” 

Unfortunately, more often than not this advice and consent is merely a hasty rubber stamp, as was the case when the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee approved the Governor’s nominations to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) despite a clear history of racism and classism.

Governor Raimondo has a history of using her power to nominate pro-fossil fuel people to leadership positions in key councils and boards ahead of big decisions. She made several key appointments to the CRMC just months before the Council took up the approval of National Grid‘s liquefaction facility in the Port of Providence.

“As we strive to make Rhode Island’s energy system cleaner, more affordable and more reliable, I am thrilled to announce a new energy leadership team that will help carry out our vision for the new decade,” wrote Governor Raimondo in a statement. 

“Nick, Linda, and Ron have all proven themselves capable leaders with decades of experience designing and implementing clean energy policy. I look forward to having them on board as we work to build Rhode Island’s clean energy future.”

While at the Office of Energy Resources (OER) Nicholas Ucci lead the state effort to approve Invenergy‘s proposed $1B fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in northwest Rhode Island, a four-year battle that was ultimately unsuccessful. In his public statement, Ucci fails to mention his support for building more fossil fuel infrastructure in Rhode Island.

“As a native Rhode Islander, I value the interconnectedness of our local communities – its residents, businesses, and governments – and shared stake in a vibrant economy and sustainable environment,” wrote Ucci in a statement. 

“Our energy system is foundational to all of it. Recent experience – including the 400 MW Revolution Wind Farm and nation-leading energy efficiency programs – demonstrates that the Ocean State can secure cost-effective, affordable energy solutions and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while spurring local investment and job growth.”

Image result for Ron Gerwatowski
Ron Gerwatowski
Ron Gerwatowski has served as Senior Regulatory Advisor for the DPUC since January 2018 and is one of the lead authors of last year’s DPUC report about National Grid accountability for the Aquidneck Island gas outages. Gerwatowski once served as Senior Vice President of United States Regulation and Pricing for National Grid.

As shown here, the DPUC report that Ron Gerwatowski co-authored determined the cause of the Aquidneck Island gas outages, and made several suggestions for preventing such outages in the future. 

One of the recommendations made was for National Grid to engage with Enbridge “to determine the feasibility of reinforcing service into Portsmouth by having Algonquin add a twelve-inch pipe in parallel with the existing six-inch pipe,” an major expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in Rhode Island.

Note that nowhere in the report is it indicated that pipeline capacity was a reason for the gas outages. This recommendation, a multi-million dollar pipeline expansion, was thrown in without any evidence of need, a giveaway to the fossil fuel industry for which Gerwatowski used to work.

Today brings more to the story, as Camilo Viveiros, executive director of the George Wiley Center, has written to the Raimondo Administration to remind the Governor about a campaign promise she made during the 2014 gubernatorial election. 

During that election the George Wiley Center sent a survey asking all the candidates about their stances on various utility-related issues, including if they would consider the Center’s input when making nominations for the Public Utilities Commission, asking, “Before making recommendations for appointments to the PUC, are you willing to consult and meet with the Rate Payers Advisory Board, the George Wiley Center and other agencies who work with low-income utility consumers who are directly impacted by the decisions and policies of the PUC?”

“Yes,” replied then candidate Raimondo. “As governor, my door will be open to the George Wiley Center to discuss the work of the Public Utilities Commission.”

In an open letter to the Governor, Viveiros writes, “We are concerned that none of the potential appointees are yet on record as supporting the George Wiley Center’s proposed Percentage Income Payment Plan (PIPP), a proposal we have submitted at the statehouse and advocated for at the PUC and Division, both internally and during community hearings, for years. We have double-checked our petitions and hearing comments and have found the Governor’s slate does not include anyone who has expressed support for this sound policy. We are writing to confirm the position of appointees on this important issue.”

PIPP is an “income-sensitive tiered subsidy program to ensure that home energy utility costs are affordable for eligible low-income households,” according the legislation submitted last year that never made it out of committee.

The George Wiley Center is asking that the nominees clearly state their position on PIPP before being approved by the Senate.

“The positions the nominees have been appointed to require leadership and quick responses to urgent issues,” wrote Viveiros in his open letter. “The public’s confidence and trust is based on the reality of whether appointees are viewed as balanced and fair to all utility consumers, not just utility companies. All three of these proposed appointments have been in the field and involved in shaping Rhode Island utility policies. They should have a clear position that will distinguish their leadership capacity and independence from corporate influences. As a grassroots organizing group that has focused on utility justice issues for decades, we can only support appointees who support our main utility policy goal of PIPP. We look forward to your response and confirmation of support, so we can move together toward an energy future that includes a just transition for people and planet.”

UpriseRI will follow up when a date to consider these appointments is scheduled. All three nominees will begin their new jobs immediately after being confirmed.