Former Walbridge mayor considered for PUCO seat
Like all candidates for the position of utility regulator, Dan Wilczynski, who works at Marathon Petroleum, has ties to the energy industry.
Columbus, Ohio- Editor’s Note: The video above was originally released on July 30, 2021.
A nominating board has sent a list of four candidates to Governor Mike DeWine to appoint as a member of the board that regulates Ohio’s utilities.
All four have strong ties to the natural gas and/or utility industries, according to a review of their cover letters, resumes and court records.
The nominee would fill one of five seats on the Ohio Public Utilities Commission. PUCO commissioners oversee utility companies, adjudicating disputes between residential, industrial, commercial and utility interests. The commission makes regulatory decisions on things like whether utility companies can raise gas and electric costs, whether they use their monopoly power to generate “significantly excessive” profit margins, or whether companies can add additional charges to customer bills in the form of “riders”.
The appointment (or reappointment) process is taking place in the shadow of a federal lawsuit alleging that FirstEnergy Corp. paid more than $60 million to a nonprofit organization, secretly controlled by House Speaker Larry Householder, to pass favorable legislation. Prosecutors said the legislation, House Bill 6, was worth about $1.3 billion to FirstEnergy. Householder has pleaded not guilty and could be tried later this year.
HB 6 provided for a taxpayer-funded bailout of two nuclear power plants owned at the time by a subsidiary of FirstEnergy. It also provided a taxpayer-funded bailout to three Ohio utilities for their losses at two coal-fired power plants in Ohio and Indiana: American Electric Power (AEP), Duke Energy and AES Ohio. . Lawmakers have since repealed the nuclear bailout, although they left the coal bailout intact.
This summer, FirstEnergy entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the US Department of Justice to “potentially” avoid a wire fraud charge. He was fined $230 million this summer and admitted to bribing the last former PUCO chairman, utility attorney Sam Randazzo, for $4.3 million just before his appointment. Randazzo has maintained his innocence and has not been charged with a crime.
A PUCO spokesperson referred inquiries about the candidates’ industry ties to the governor’s office. In January, DeWine told Gongwer News Service he would seek a candidate who had no experience or ties to the utility industry. Asked about the ties of the four candidates on Tuesday, however, a DeWine spokesperson offered different criteria.
“[We] review candidates nominated by the Nominating Advisor. Governor DeWine is committed to choosing a candidate who is sensible and who will weigh all aspects of the issues before PUCO,” spokesman Dan Tierney said.
Several organizations representing the energy interests of residential customers — the Ohio Consumers Counsel, Pro Seniors Inc. and the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio — issued a letter earlier this month criticizing PUCO’s failure to avoid influence. public services in the selection process. They called for a candidate with “genuine and solid experience in consumer representation (not solid political experience)” and not someone who has worked for a regulated utility. In another letter released Thursday, the OCC called on DeWine to reject the slate altogether and appoint an advocate for consumers, not “utility personnel.”
Here’s a rundown of the commissioners DeWine is about to review.
Conway currently holds the seat in question. He was appointed by Governor John Kasich in 2017.
Before starting as Commissioner, he practiced energy and telecommunications law for the law firm Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur. He led the firm’s energy and telecommunications practice group.
His submitted resume does not list any specific clients. However, a review of state and federal court records shows that Conway has represented several major PUCO-regulated utilities.
For example, he represented Monongahela Power Company in a 2004 lawsuit challenging a PUCO order before the utility was acquired by FirstEnergy. Court records show that he represented Columbia Gas (child company of NiSource) as early as 2006 and as recently as 2013. He represented AEP as an attorney as early as 2000 and as recently as 2014.
Former Walbridge Ohio mayor Wilczynski currently works as a business process safety officer at Marathon Petroleum Corp., which refines and transports crude oil.
His resume lists previous work as an auditor at BP Oil and as an energy consultant. He worked as an engineer at the Davis Besse nuclear power plant, one of two plants bailed out by HB 6.
In his cover letter, he highlighted his work with refineries, oil and natural gas production, and his “close working relationship” with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“I’ve had a long career in the energy industry, from my early days as an engineer at Toledo Edison’s Davis-Besse Nuclear Generating Station to my current role leading the safety team processes for Marathon Petroleum’s natural gas business,” he wrote.
For the past seven years, Serriano worked as vice president, general counsel, corporate secretary, and chief compliance and ethics officer at Upper Peninsula Power Company in Michigan — a regulated utility that sells electricity to about 52,000 Michiganders.
“These positions provide me with a wealth of energy and utility industry expertise to draw upon, expertise that can only prove invaluable to a commissioner’s decision-making thought processes,” he said. he writes in a cover letter.
Given what he called “current concerns about undue influence, real or perceived” surrounding Ohio’s energy policy, he said his expertise was developed “without any undue influence in Ohio or elsewhere”.
Other experience includes legal work for a distilling company, service at the Lucas County Auditor’s Office, and attorney for real estate and other industries.
Yarnell currently works as the Director of Gas Distribution and Utilities at SAM, a surveying and mapping company. His resume lists gas distribution customers including NiSource, Duke Energy and Washington Gas and Light.
From 2016 to 2019, he worked at the Washington Gas and Light Company as a gas operations supervisor in Virginia.
He also listed other experiences in a contracting and engineering company where he worked with gas companies. In his cover letter, he describes his work in the operations, damage prevention and integrity management of natural gas and other utilities.
“A lot of my experience is in the natural gas industry, ranging from asset integrity to asset management in upstream, midstream and downstream environments,” he said.