Jon Wellinghoff

With so much news in Washington this week, we almost forgot to mention big news at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). On Friday, President Obama appointed Jon Wellinghoff to be the acting chairman of the agency, where he will oversee interstate electric transmission, gas transportation, and opening wholesale markets to renewables.

The 59-year-old Nevadan is considered the front-runner for a nomination to the top spot at the agency. “I thank President Obama for the opportunity to lead FERC at a time when our nation faces the challenge of providing consumers with access to clean, renewable energy and ensuring that our nation can deliver that energy in the most efficient, smart and technologically sophisticated manner possible,” said Wellinghoff in a statement.

This is exciting news for greens, who are big fans of Wellinghoff, an energy law specialist who has been with FERC since 2006. In December 2007, the U.S. Senate reconfirmed him for a full five-year term. While at the agency he has helped create a new division — the Energy Innovations Sector — to investigate and promote new efficient technologies and practices.

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In his first full day on the job as acting chief, Wellinghoff stressed the need for automobile manufacturers and electric utilities to work together to integrate electric vehicles into the national grid, according to a Dow Jones report.

Exiting chairman Joseph T. Kelliher praised Wellinghoff’s appointment: “Jon has the intelligence, experience, judgment and independence to lead FERC as the agency discharges its historic responsibilities and confronts new challenges.” Kelliher, who drew fire during the Bush administration for his involvement with Vice President Dick Cheney’s secret energy task force, stepped down earlier this month.

Wellinghoff was in private practice as an attorney and consumer advocate before joining FERC, focusing on renewable energy, energy efficiency and distributed generation. He was also the primary author of the Nevada Renewable Portfolio Standard Act, which was heralded by the Union of Concerned Scientists as one of the best RPS standards in the country (though they’ve apparently been falling short of their goals). He also worked with clients in six other states to help instate an RPS.

“He’s a terrific choice to lead FERC. He has decades of experience with the industry, he’s been a very forceful advocate for treating energy efficiency and demand-side alternatives equivalent to power-supply alternatives,” Allen Nogee, clean energy program director for UCS, told Grist. “He will be an enormous help [to] President Obama’s realizing the goals of his administration to begin to transform the energy economy to a clean and sustainable energy economy.”

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Wellinghoff also served two terms as the first consumer advocate for the public utilities customers of Nevada, representing them before the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, FERC, and the Nevada Supreme Court. He authored the first comprehensive state utility integrated planning statute, which is now considered a model program for the rest of the country.

He previously served as a staff attorney for the Federal Trade Commission’s Energy and Product Information Division from 1978 to 1979, staff counsel for the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee’s Consumer Subcommittee, and Deputy District Attorney in the Consumer Fraud Division for the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office in Reno, Nevada.

Here’s a 2001 profile one of the Las Vegas papers did on Wellinghoff and his groundbreaking work on renewables.