Welcoming John Wilson of Resource Insight: A New Expert in the Clean Power Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]
- Jan 29, 2020 7:14 pm GMT
At Energy Central, we make a big deal out of the value that our top regarded network of experts brings, and it’s because it really is true. The Energy Central community is able to connect you with peers across the industry all over the country and even the globe, but the quick access you have to high profile and deeply knowledgeable industry experts is something you really can’t get elsewhere. But we don’t want to just rest of the laurels of the experts already in our community, but rather we enjoy reaching out and bringing in new thought leaders who can enhance the collective Energy Central knowledge.
With that in mind, I want to introduce you to the newest expert in our Clean Power Community, John Wilson. John is a Research Director at Resource Insight, Inc., and to allow you to get to know him and recognize when you might want to tap into this newest resource for the Energy Central Community, he agreed to chat for our Power Perspectives™ “Welcome Your New Expert” interview series:
Matt Chester: We’re excited to have you on board as an expert at Energy Central. Can you start by giving our community members some background insights into who you are and what your role in the utility business has been over the course of your career?
John Wilson: For the past 12 years, I’ve led regulatory policy on clean energy issues for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Now I’m consulting at Resource Insight, and my client base has broadened to include consumer and small business advocates. But even while I was at SACE, it wasn’t just about getting the cleanest possible energy; we also had a firm eye on the bottom line, because a high-cost clean solution just isn’t sustainable.
Some of the key electric utility issues I’ve worked on include energy efficiency, rate design, and solar capacity value. For example, for almost all of the 12 years I worked at SACE, I had a strong role in advocating for Duke Energy’s energy efficiency program to grow from zero to the leader in the Southeast. Another example is the leading role I had in pushing Georgia Power to adopt a reasonably fair method for valuing renewable energy in several RFPs.
I’d also highlight my strength in sifting through data to get answers to questions, and often answers that aren’t what were anticipated at the beginning. I’m good at building up new models where existing analytic approaches fall short. I do spreadsheets and strategy.
Earlier in my career, I also had a role in helping clean up Houston’s smog, so I have a good understanding of how industrial air pollution regulations work. This came in handy when I was tasked with analyzing whether the Clean Power Plan would work. Let’s just say our comments were very, very long.
MC: You have focused a lot on the regulation of utilities over the course of your career. Can you comment on what you think the role of regulation is compared with technology or markets when it comes to decarbonizing the grid? Is regulation being leaned on too much or should we be doing more?
JW: With my focus on the Southeast now shifting to the entire United States, I am having to engage market questions more than I used to. But even in the Southeast, there are bilateral markets, they are just hidden. So, one of the projects I am looking at is how to improve procurement by vertically integrated utilities.
When I compare leaders to laggards, the biggest factor is utility leadership. Utility leadership can be influenced or even driven by regulators and legislators. When better technology is available, utility leaders can move quickly or slowly to adapt. For example, the Tennessee Valley Authority was moving to embrace new planning and resource acquisition strategies in the early part of the decade, but more recently has shifted back to very conventional practices. TVA appears to be going against technology and market trends.
MC: When it comes to utility regulation and your experience at each level (local, state, and federal), how do you compare those different levels in terms of effectiveness and importance? What stands out as being the most important differences?
JW: In my experience in the Southeast, unquestionably state regulators are most important in terms of rates and utility investments. However, if it were not for strong federal laws governing the basics – like intervenor participation in regulatory proceedings, PURPA, interconnection and grid access – then state regulation could be a lot worse. Also, the federal government has played a critical role in ensuring compliance with environmental rules, ensuring that older, highly polluting power plants could not be kept online without costly cleanups. That has created the space for utilities to invest in new, cleaner generation.
Local governments are clearly seeking out ways to drive decarbonization, but they lack influence under most state laws unless they have a municipal utility. And those smaller utilities are typically under pressure from the large investor-owned utilities, so their financial and market options may be limited. For example, even though the effort to sell JEA was evidently fueled by corruption, there are actual market pressures that make it difficult for JEA to maneuver.
MC: What single major step in the clean power sector do you hope you’ll see accomplished before your career comes to an end? What is the top priority goal in your view?
JW: Wow, that’s like picking your favorite child. I’ve got a list of around 5 to 10 areas that I want to have an impact in.
That’s really the major reason I have shifted to consulting. I wanted to have a role in developing new regulatory policy ideas that just aren’t likely to be applied first in the Southeast. For example, I developed some ideas on how to fund electric vehicle charging infrastructure in collaboration with staff at a major Southeastern utility. But the ideas went nowhere because the utility didn’t feel the regulators were ready for novel ideas like that, and the utility had other priorities.
Another area of interest is in reforming the utility business model to recognize a shift from capital assets to more of a reliance on services or managing contracts. I’m hoping to find clients and venues to advance some of those ideas, which I hope would complement (and perhaps simplify) the growing interest in performance-based ratemaking.
MC: As you’ve started to get involved with Energy Central, what do you find to be the value that the platform brings to you and to the industry? Why do you participate and stay so engaged, and how do you hope to bring value based on your experience and knowledge to fellow Energy Central users?
JW: While I worked at SACE, I was very engaged with our members and others in social media and via our blog. Now that I’m consulting, I need a new platform for that engagement. As my work product begins to flow, I plan to use Energy Central as a platform for sharing my work and getting feedback. It is always good to hear from new viewpoints. So, you’ll be hearing a lot more from me in the coming months; I’ve got a couple of interesting projects to share soon.
Thanks again to John for agreeing to join Energy Central’s community as an expert and sharing his insights in this interview. As he noted, you’ll surely catch John throughout the Clean Power Group on Energy Central, so please do say hello, thank him for his contributions, and let him know if you have questions on which you think his expertise would be valued!
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