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Some pushback to governor’s plans to replace Jeff Ackermann

by Allen Best

DENVER – Who will replace Jeff Ackermann as chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission—or will there be enough pushback to cause Gov. Jared Polis to reconsider his plan to replace .

Ackermann in late September announced that he had about 100 days left in his term, and he would not be returning. Asked for comment, the Polis office did not deny that was leaving. “As with each administration, appointments to boards and commissions are at the Governor’s discretion,” deputy press secretary Shelby Wieman said in a statement reported by Big Pivots on Oct. 6.

There has been pushback. Colorado Solar and Storage Coaliton —not to be confused with the industry group called the Colorado Solar and Storage Association — members at a Dec. 3 meeting discussed the matter. “Many in the group were alarmed by this for several reasons, but primarily because (a) Ackermann is a forward-looking and big-picture thinker; (b) the PUC has been tasked by the Legislature with investigating many issues that can significantly address climate change goals; and (c) no one else will be equipped to hit the ground running and grasp all the intricacies of these important issues in the way someone with Ackermann’s expertise can,” according to meeting minutes.

The coalition members were advised to contract the Polis office or Zach Pierce, the energy and climate advisor to Polis.

Polis early this year got pushback from a key ally, Sen. Majority Leroy Garcia, when he attempted to replace Frances Koncilja on the PUC with Susan Perkins. Perkins had been involved in the effort to municipalize Pueblo’s electricity. Voters later defeated the proposal. Garcia is from Pueblo.

At length, Polis relented and instead nominated Gilman, a solar entrepreneur and, at that time, chairwoman of the board of directors for Holy Cross Energy.

Pueblo County commissioners had sent a letter to Polis asking him to reappoint Koncilja, and the Pueblo City Council had taken a similar position, along with Garcia and State Rep. Daneya Esgar, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.

Polis has indicated he likes to appoint his own people to commissions. One exception (and there may be more) was Chuck Grobe, of Craig, who was reappointed to the Air Quality Control Commission.

In this case, the vital issue seems to be the learning curve of Ackermann’s replacement, if there is one, and what skill set is needed. Gilman and John Gavan are engineers by training but with business experience. But is it good to have a lawyer in the mix, too?

This is from Big Pivots, which chronicles the great energy transition in Colorado and beyond. Sign up at BigPivots.com.

Here is who I am hearing is on the governor’s short list.

Eric Blank

Eric Blank, president of CE Ventures, a firm he founded in 2019 that, according to his Linked-In profile, develops and deploys path-breaking new solutions for clean energy at a scale sufficient to meaningfully impact climate change.

From 2009 to 2018, he was president and co-founder of Community Energy Solar. Before that he was executive vice president of Iberdrola Renewables, where he led U.S. wind development for two years.

He also has a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and has a law degree from Yale.

Leia Guccione

Leia Guccione directs the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Electricity Program. Since 2002, she has directed RMI’s research exploring the potential for distributed generation, distributed energy resources, and distributed battery technologies to disrupt utility business models and other aspects of the U.S. electricity system.

Prior to joining RMI, she served in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer and, according to the RMI website, continues to serve in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

Mark Valentine

Mark Valentine is an attorney at the Denver firm of Keyes & Fox. He began his legal career as counsel for the Colorado PUC. Today, according to the profile on his firm’s website, his clients range from transportation providers to small and large utility customers to developers of renewable energy projects.

He began his career as a legislative analyst for the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. Early in his career, he also represented regulated utilities.

The Big Pivots e-magazine version of this story confused the Colorado Solar and Storage Coalition with a separate industry group. It also failed to note Pueblo County’s opposition in 2019 to the replacement of Frances Koncilja. 

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