Doug Scott, an architect of Illinois’ climate policy, takes gavel of state's utility regulatory commission

Doug Scott, an architect of Illinois’ climate policy, takes gavel of state’s utility regulatory commission

By ANDREW ADAMS
Capitol News Illinois
aadams@capitolnewsillinois.com

CHICAGO – When Illinois officials wanted to create a carbon-free energy sector, they called Doug Scott.

Now, the man who became one of the architects of the state’s landmark energy reform policy – known as the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act – will be a key player in implementing the law he helped create.

Scott is the new chair of the Illinois Commerce Commission – the agency that oversees utilities and companies in other regulated industries in Illinois. He officially stepped into the role on June 20 after Gov. JB Pritzker announced his plan to replace outgoing chair Carrie Zalewski in March.

Pritzker previously hired Scott as an advisor to help his office develop CEJA in the lead-up to the law’s 2021 passage. At the time, Scott worked at Great Plains Institute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that advises states on clean energy issues. He has since left that role – through which he also helped Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin develop their clean energy plans – to head the ICC full-time.

Scott previously served as a Democratic state representative, the mayor of Rockford and the head of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. He even had a prior stint as chairman of the ICC, having been appointed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn in 2011. He left four years later after Quinn lost his reelection bid to Republican Bruce Rauner.

Scott said he was driven to return to the ICC in part because he was excited about implementing CEJA, which set a goal of decarbonizing the state’s electric grid by 2045. The wide-ranging bill also included other reforms such as new utility regulatory schemes and new subsidies for the state’s nuclear fleet.

“Being able to help implement and do our part on CEJA was really appealing to me because there was a lot for the commission to do in CEJA and the ability to help see that through is very appealing,” Scott said in an interview.

Few people are as well versed in the law as Scott is. As an advisor, he worked with Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell, who was at the time one of Pritzker’s top officials on climate policy issues.

“It is no exaggeration to say that CEJA would not have happened without Doug Scott,” Mitchell said in an interview with Capitol News Illinois, noting Scott was “there from the beginning.”

Mitchell, who has since left Pritzker’s administration for a role at the University of Chicago, said Scott takes over an ICC that has seen its authority expanded thanks to CEJA.

“We have developed a ratemaking system in CEJA that is again giving the ICC more tools than they’ve ever had to understand utility spending, to intervene when necessary, and to be able to push forward clean-energy goals while also prioritizing consumers,” Mitchell said.

By Scott’s account, Pritzker brought him in as an advisor to follow through on a 2020 promise that Illinois’ energy policies would not be, in Pritzker’s words, “written by the utility companies.”

“The old ways of negotiating energy legislation are over,” Pritzker said in his 2020 State of the State address. “It’s time to put consumers and climate first.”

Scott said he followed through on that by offering his knowledge of other states’ energy policies and by facilitating working groups of stakeholders affected by energy policy – people from the transportation sector, utilities, major industry groups and equity advocates, to name a few.

“The idea behind it was that this wasn’t going to be eight folks in a back room, right?” Scott said in an interview. “When the bill comes out, you will have seen this idea somewhere.”

Scott said his deep knowledge of the law and Illinois’ policy landscape will be “really helpful” in his new role – although he said he also won’t let it bias his regulatory decisions.

“It helps to understand not just the pieces that we have to do at the ICC, but how those pieces fit into the overall legislation and what it’s trying to accomplish,” Scott said. “I think it’s given me, obviously, a lot more perspective than you almost ever get in any similar situation.”

Scott said impacts on customers and grid resiliency are among his considerations when making administrative decisions on cases.  

“There are major storms and there are going to be more,” he said. “If you believe in climate change, as I do, we’re going to see more and worse storms. How quickly can the system bounce back?”

 

Controversial issues before ICC

The commission is currently considering six proposed rate increases by gas and electricity utilities serving residents in Chicago and throughout most of suburban and downstate Illinois.

Although he declined to comment on any pending cases before the ICC, Scott said the volume of work before him is enticing.

“The fact that there’s so much going on at once, I like that pace,” Scott said. “I think it’s pretty exciting to be doing that.”

The commission is currently considering two electric rate cases – one from Ameren Illinois downstate and another from Commonwealth Edison in the Chicago area. It’s the first time each of the utilities are filing a multi-year ratemaking plan allowed under CEJA, replacing the status quo of electric utilities filing for one-time increases. These plans are more complex than traditional rate cases and come with the chance for the ICC to review the companies’ profit margins, something that wasn’t done under the state’s older formula-based ratemaking system.

The commission is also currently considering Navigator CO2’s proposal to build a carbon dioxide pipeline that would cross through central Illinois, running from Hancock County to Christian County, with branches running north to Henry County and south to Montgomery County.

The project has drawn criticism from some residents in the region and staff at the ICC.

In written testimony filed with the ICC on June 15, ICC staff shared concerns that the current construction guidelines for the project “do not adequately address public safety” and recommended the commission deny Navigator’s request to build a pipeline.

Navigator has not filed a formal reply, but in previous filings the company said it has a “strong safety track record” and noted it was working with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to meet safety requirements.

Beyond these cases, Scott and other recently appointed commissioners will likely oversee other key components of the continued rollout of CEJA, according to Sarah Moskowitz, director of the Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit created by the state legislature that represents consumer interests before the ICC. 

“Implementation of state energy policy is still going to be big,” Moskowitz said. “There was a lot of work immediately after the passage of CEJA, but a lot of that work is ongoing as programs continue to roll out.”

Moskowitz, who started in her current role the same day as Scott, also noted that she expects “developments in Springfield” around the future of natural gas that could affect the way the commission does its work.

 

Other new commissioners

While Scott is the chairman of the ICC, he downplays the leadership of his position when compared to the other four members of the commission.

“I’m one of five. Other than, you know, the work at meetings, chairing the meetings, there aren’t any extra powers or authority I have compared to the others,” Scott said, while sitting in a corner office reserved for the ICC’s chair.

As of 2022, the ICC chair received a $144,000 annual salary, compared to a $125,790 salary for the other four commissioners, according to a December 2022 report from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.   

Two other new commissioners were seated this spring as well, marking the first time the commission is made up entirely of Pritzker appointees.

Conrad Reddick, a Democrat and longtime regulatory attorney who has successfully argued before the ICC, took over in March for D. Ethan Kimbrel, a Rauner appointee whose term expired.

“Over my career, I have represented everyone from utilities to local governments to consumers (large and small), so I understand how commission decisions can affect each of these groups,” Reddick said in an email statement.

Reddick said his decision-making process isn’t driven by specific issues, but that his objectives are “process-focused and based largely on my experience in commission cases.”

“I hope that the commission can become a bit more efficient, add even more subject matter experts to our staff, and be clearer in the analytical and policy ‘whys’ of its decisions,” Reddick said. “When I arrived, I found that all our current commissioners shared those goals – all of which we will need to get through the coming wave of major CEJA cases.”

A few weeks after Pritzker appointed Reddick, he also appointed Stacey Paradis to fill a vacancy that had been open for several months following Maria Bocanegra’s resignation.

Paradis just finished a 15-year run as the executive director of the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a Chicago-based non-profit that promotes energy efficiency in both generation and consumption. She is one of two Republican commissioners, fulfilling a requirement that no more than three commissioners can belong to the same political party.

“Utility regulation is exceedingly arcane, and sometimes, overly complicated,” Paradis said in an email statement. “My technical experience with demand-side management and other energy program experience makes it easier to navigate the technical dockets and understand the legislative intent.”

Moskowitz, who has been working at CUB for 18 years, said she is looking forward to working with the new commissioners.

“With this commission, I’m seeing a lot of expertise and that makes me pleased,” said Moskowitz, who noted that she had worked with Paradis while the latter was at the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.

Paradis and Reddick await confirmation by the Illinois Senate but have begun work in an “acting” capacity. Scott was appointed to fill the remainder of Zalewski’s five-year term, which was set to end in January. He would be subject to Senate confirmation if Pritzker reappoints him to a full term.  

The other two commissioners are Michael Carrigan, a Democrat and former president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, and Ann McCabe, a Republican who began her career working on regulatory issues for oil companies BP and Amoco before moving into consulting. This is McCabe’s second stint as an ICC commissioner, after being appointed by Pat Quinn for a term beginning in 2012.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

 

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