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Welcome Your New Expert Interview Series: Jon Wellinghoff, New Expert in the Clean Power Professionals Group - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Clean Power Professionals Group
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Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst, Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Dec 22, 2022
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When it comes to the conversations driving the future of energy, the voices of experience and leadership are more important than ever. The utility industry is trying to juggle ambitious clean energy goals, grid reliable necessities, and affordability and equity requirements on top of it all. For all stakeholders, this complex web can be a challenging one with which to keep pace, but that’s why we must lean on thought leadership.

As we continue to expand the Network of Experts, those community members at Energy Central who are most able and willing to share their experiences and wisdom, the collective abilities and strength of the whole community grows. And that fact is why the latest addition is among the most exciting, as we welcome Jon Wellinghoff as an expert in our Clean Power Group.

Jon’s current role as the CEO of GridPolicy Inc. alone would qualify him as a can’t-miss leader in the sector, but add that on top of his executive experience at Voltus, SolarCity, and Stoel Rives LLP as well as what you may recognize him most from: the former Chairman of FERC from 2009 to 2013 (as well as a Commissioner from 2006-2013).

We’re so excited to welcome Jon into the fold as one of our experts, and as such he was gracious enough to join us for the traditional New Expert Member Interview:

Matt Chester: Jon, we’re very excited to welcome you to our Network of Experts. We always kick that process off with an interview like this one so our community knows what they can expect you to bring as an expert, and your experience is very wide and compelling so I want to hear it from you. What is your background in the energy sector and how did your career take you to where you are today? so let’s start with the basics. What is your role in the world of energy and how did you find yourself there?

Jon Wellinghoff:  I’d be happy to Matt. I started in the utility space from the area of consumer protection. I was very involved in the consumer protection movement back in the days of Ralph Nader and I actually was a Deputy District Attorney in Reno, Nevada. As the head of the Consumer Protection Division, we started looking at things like utility rate cases and utilities’ relationships to their consumers and how they could better serve their consumers and provide better quality service. I ultimately went into a division of the Attorney General's office called the Office of Consumer Advocate, which was responsible for representing utility consumers in the state of Nevada. I did that for over seven years, and that's really how I got involved deeply in energy policy and energy regulation.

 

MC: And since that time, you’ve really had a front row seat for a lot of the transformation taking place across the utility sector. What’s surprised you most about that evolution? And what sort of changes did you maybe think were going to happen but never came to fruition?

JW: Well, I really did think that consumers were going to have more opportunities for choice and more service offerings. I thought that was all happening in the late 90s and there was a firm in that during that time that was actually promoting that very extensively. In fact, they came to Nevada and proposed some very wide changing legislation to restructure the utility structure to provide for a retail access and choice and a lot of people probably know the name of that firm. It was called Enron, and unfortunately that all fell apart as Enron got shut down.

That development was a great disappointment to me because I think ultimately consumers should have more choice and more options in the energy field. And we've seen options expand over the last 20 years, certainly behind the meter for consumers with rooftop solar and now with the advent of batteries. We're seeing much more distributed energy resources start to expand, and I think that's a good thing. What we're not seeing, though, is on the other side of the meter we're still not seeing enough competitive offerings. We have Texas which has been fairly successful, although a lot of people criticize Texas for a lot of the events that took place in a couple of the winter storms, but I don't think those situations were the fault of retail access or the restructured market.

I see monopoly utilities trying to hang onto their monopoly structures and their limited choices for consumers and I see consumers wanting more choices, more options, more opportunities to really control their own energy destiny, and I think that's the tension that we're still dealing with today.

 

MC: Our Energy Central audience is filled with utility professionals, the people who are continuing to drive the utility into this new era of digital technologies, pro-sumers, clean energy targets, and more. What advice do you have for the utilities that maybe they need to hear at this critical point in time?

JW: I think the utility leadership needs to appreciate and understand that consumers are seeking more access to not only the ability to provide their own energy services, but also to have transparency to the data that they have with respect to those energy activities. Consumers have all kinds of fairly inexpensive devices and apps on phones that can show them the data about what's happening within their facilities to better control and better operate those services for themselves. So, I think what utilities need to understand is that consumers want that control and they need to do whatever they can to provide transparency to those data sources.

The other thing that I think we're seeing is we're seeing aggregations of data across the utility space that are coming not only from the utility themselves, say the distribution utility that has access through digital devices within their system but we're seeing devices that are actually more intelligent than smart meters that consumers are putting their in their home for other purposes. One thing I can think of in particular is a company called Whisker Labs that has a device called The Ting that it's used primarily to detect whether or not there's a potential for a fault in the wiring in the house that could cause a fire and insurance companies are providing funding to this company because it reduces house fires. At the same time these devices can actually determine what's happening outside in the utility wiring as well, so that data is in essence being functionally crowdsourced by hundreds of thousands of sensors that are not owned by the utility.

So what I'm suggesting is that the utilities are going to lose control of their own system data soon because consumers and other third party entities are going to have much more data than the utilities will have about how these systems operate, so I think they need to be aware of that.

 

MC: What are you most optimistic about for the energy sector tomorrow? And on the other side, what do you think are the hardest-to-solve challenges that persist—the ones that maybe keep you up at night?

JW: Well, I think the thing I'm most optimistic about is that in the wholesale electric markets, we're seeing those markets expand and become more robust and more products being put into them. You're seeing, for example, in states like Nevada and Colorado their legislatures mandating that they will join an RTO or regional transmission organization with an independent system operator. There is somewhat of a movement in the southeast to create a market there as well. The rest of the United States already has these independent wholesale markets, and what's interesting about those markets because FERC has put in place Rule Order 2222, which mandates that these organized wholesale markets incorporated into those markets distributed energy resources and products to allow those resources to participate in those markets. So that means that distributed generation, like rooftop solar and behind the meter battery storage, can provide services in the market, like a flexible load, demand response, all those under the rubric of distributed energy resources are going to be. I'm very excited about that because I do think it will give consumers more control and more opportunity to really control their energy costs.

 

MC: What value do you hope to bring to your peers on the EnergyCentral.com platform? And what do you hope to get out of it in value yourself?  

JW: I hope to be able to bring my market expertise that I gained at FERC, and I've continued to hone through 10 years of consulting since leaving FERC, in addition to the market expertise I have of how to take disruptive technologies and move them into the market and how those technologies can ultimately provide for market services.

The thing that I hope to learn out of Energy Central is just what is out there. What is new out there? I'm always looking for the newest, latest idea. I'm a real technology geek, even though I have this had this initial consumer perspective when I started out. So, I'm interested in learning more about technologies and also learning more about ideas that people have to use those technologies to make markets work more efficient in this country.

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Thanks to Jon Wellinghoff for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights and expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Jon will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see her across the platform.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert, you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

Discussions
Bamidele Faparusi's picture
Bamidele Faparusi on Jan 13, 2023

Thank you Jon for your Expert view, I want to agree with you that there is a need for disruptive technology innovations to provide a competitive offering to consumers and also to have control over their energy usage. however, can you share the texas model you mentioned in the interview?

Jon Wellinghoff's picture
Jon Wellinghoff on Jan 19, 2023

The Texas model I referred to is the open retail access consumers are afforded in Texas to choose competitive energy service providers. Some of these entities are providing consumers with options to control their energy usage and to also access the Texas wholesale electric markets with behind the meter distributed resources such as load flexibility, battery storage and on site generation.

Edit: As a follow up, this link makes my point. 

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