Oregon’s top regulator of power companies announced her resignation Friday in a letter to Gov. Kate Brown.
Susan Ackerman is a longtime utility lawyer who was appointed to the Oregon Public Utility Commission in 2010 and promoted to chairwoman in 2012. The three-member board regulates investor-owned utilities including their natural gas and electricity rates.
Ackerman did not give a reason for her decision not to seek a new term and to step down in May. She did not directly respond to questions about why she's leaving the job. But a spokesman for the Public Utility Commission said he was not aware of any connection between the coal power legislation and Ackerman's decision to leave the commission.
Her announcement follows recent friction over a bill signed by Brown that would phase out two utilities' use of coal-fired power in Oregon and double their use of renewable energy by 2035.
In the past few months, the, the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Bill apparently created a rift between the PUC and the governor's office.
A report in The Oregonian cited e-mail exchanges indicating that Ackerman wanted the PUC to get involved in developing the legislation, but the board wasn't invited. They also show commissioners had serious concerns about the bill – including how it would impact electricity rates and change existing policies – and that governor's office had told them to hold off on their public comments.
Ackerman reportedly told The Oregonian she didn’t have permission from the governor’s office to talk to the paper about the bill.
In a legislative hearing, however, Ackerman later told lawmakers that contrary to the implications of that news story, the governor hadn't "muzzled" the PUC, and her concerns about the bill didn't stem from being left out of the negotiations.But she told lawmakers that the policies in the bill "are not the ones the Commission would have preferred. We believe that there are policies that are more effective for the environment and for consumers."
Ackerman said the PUC was concerned the requirement to ban coal-generated electricity in Oregon "will raise consumer rates but not actually reduce the amount of carbon emitted into the air compared to a future without that provision."
A spokeswoman for Brown says the governor is "grateful to Ackerman for her leadership at the PUC and her years of service to the people of Oregon."
Chris Lehman is the Salem correspondent for the Northwest News Network. Cassandra Profita is a reporter with EarthFix.