LANSING – Control of the Public Service Commission will flip to a 2-1 Democratic majority later this summer following the appointment Wednesday of environmental sustainability advocate Tremaine Phillips who will take over a vacant seat.

Environmental groups were enthusiastic in their initial responses to Governor Gretchen Whitmer‘s pick of Phillips, who has worked within the energy industry and on clean energy initiatives for several years. Utilities were more muted in their response, but expressed a willingness to work with the powerful commission’s newest member.

Phillips’ term is effective September 9 and he replaces outgoing Commissioner Norm Saari, who was appointed by former Governor Rick Snyder. Saari’s term expired July 2. Gongwer News Service first reported that Phillips would be Whitmer’s pick (See Gongwer Michigan Report, July 12, 2019).

“The Michigan Public Service Commission is committed to protecting the public by ensuring safe, accessible energy and telecommunications services at reasonable rates. Tremaine’s experience ranges from the utility sector, state government and clean energy advocacy,” Whitmer said in a statement. “His diverse background will give him the knowledge and insight to be successful in his new role and is supported by a broad array of stakeholders and environmental groups to business organizations.”

Whitmer is keeping Commissioner Sally Talberg as PSC chair, which serves at the pleasure of the governor. Snyder had named Talberg to the post, but a spokesperson for Whitmer said Wednesday Talberg will remain in the chair position.

Industry and environmental groups alike have been closely watching and waiting to see whom the governor would appoint.

Environmental and progressive groups had been urging Whitmer to appoint someone with an interest in addressing climate change and a champion for ratepayers. Sources told Gongwer News Service on background last week that utilities were likely to be uneasy if Phillips were to be named to the position. Utilities, the entities regulated by the PSC, have often had greater influence on appointments to the panel.

He currently is director of the Cincinnati 2030 District in Cincinnati, Ohio, a project focused on setting sustainability goals for the city’s downtown commercial district on energy, transportation, water and health. Prior to that he was vice president for strategic initiatives at Empower Saves in Columbus, Ohio, which works with utilities and businesses to provide data and software on energy efficiency.

Phillips has held multiple posts in Lansing, including as assistant deputy director within what was then the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth during former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s administration as well as working from 2010-13 for a Lansing-area nonprofit working on economic development.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and his master’s degree from Ohio State University.

DTE Energy Company spokesperson Pete Ternes in a statement congratulated Phillips on his appointment.

“With previous experience in Michigan government agencies and with recent energy data analytics and sustainability work through Empower Saves Ohio and Cincinnati 2030, we look forward to working with him,” Ternes said. “Tremaine’s interest in a cleaner energy future is consistent with that of DTE’s and our plan to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2040.”

“We look forward to working with Commissioner Tremaine Phillips to ensure safe, reliable, affordable and clean energy for Michigan,” Consumers Energy spokesperson Brian Wheeler said in a statement.

Environmental groups quickly praised Whitmer’s choice.

“We commend Governor Whitmer for appointing a commissioner who has extensive knowledge, expertise and achievements in the energy sector,” Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said. “We look forward to working with the Public Service Commission to address climate change by rapidly reducing Michigan’s carbon footprint through aggressive investments in renewable sources, like wind and solar.”

Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council president Laura Sherman was equally pleased with the announcement.

Tremaine “is an attorney with strong expertise in advanced energy issues, including how energy decisions influence economic development and job creation. His experience working with diverse business interests and stakeholders across the energy sector will serve him well as he weighs important decisions at the Commission,” Ms. Sherman said.

The Michigan Sierra Club was also happy with the news.

“We applaud Governor Gretchen Whitmer for appointing a clean energy leader with strong credentials to the Public Service Commission. We look forward to working with Tremaine Phillips and the other commissioners to help expand clean energy choices for Michiganders,” Michigan Sierra Club Legislative Organizer Tim Minotas said.

This story was published by Gongwer News Service.