The appointment of Ron Binz to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) appears to be in serious jeopardy with today’s news that two senators have announced they will vote no.
Mr. Binz was formerly the head of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC), experience that gives him the bona fides to potentially run FERC. During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Binz faced tough questioning, as you would expect.
However, we have two more tough questions for Mr. Binz about his resumé and achievements.
First, during his confirmation hearing, Mr. Binz attempted to defend his record on coal by telling Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Va.), “I approved the largest coal plant that was ever built in Colorado.”* Mr. Binz is referring to the Comanche-3 power plant. Only the Colorado Public Utilities Commission would have the authority to approve new coal plants.
The problem is the fact the decision by Colorado’s PUC to build the largest coal plant in the state’s history came in 2004, according to Xcel Energy’s website.** Mr. Binz did not become a member of the PUC board until 2007.
Calling us today, Mr. Binz said, “I approved the rate-based treatment of the plant and the associated rate increase that allowed the utility to begin to operate the plant and to include it (Comanche 3) in its rates.” When asked if he could properly take credit for a plant that had already been under construction for no less than four years, Mr. Binz terminated the interview.
We think the discrepancy is serious enough that senators should question Mr. Binz about the matter if the situation allows.
The second area of questions involves Mr. Binz’s retirement from the PUC. According to a Denver Buisiness Journal article from February 2011, Mr. Binz decided to leave the PUC to “resume my consulting practice and to work with organizations that promote clean energy policies here and across the country.” Binz was further quoted as saying, “There is never a good time to leave a job like this — there will always be unfinished matters.” Keep in mind these are not the quotes Mr. Binz gave the Journal, but rather are taken directly from his letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper announcing his intentions to step down.
However, according to a PUC memo obtained by CompleteColorado.com (embedded below), Mr. Binz was actively seeking reappointment just three months prior to his leaving the commission. The memo in question, signed by Mr. Binz, indicates he called an executive with the largest utility provider in Colorado, Xcel Energy, to gauge support for his reappointment.
The question naturally becomes, what changed Mr. Binz’s mind? His nomination for FERC seems to be de facto evidence of remaining ambition within government.
All these revelations come on the heels of an investigative report by The Washington Times revealing emails showing Binz coordinating his FERC nomination with lobbyists from two green energy companies. (The emails in the report by the Washington Times were obtained by the Independence Institute, which employs the author of this article, and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic).
*For Mr. Binz’s quote, see the video at this link, time of 2hr 56min 40sec.
** according to sources, the formal decision from the PUC on Comanche III came in January of 2005.
Todd Shepherd is the investigative reporter for the Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado. He is also the founder of CompleteColorado.com. Send him tips at CompleteColorado@gmail.com.