Think of it as a coming together of two energy industry disrupters…SolarCity has hired Jon Wellinghoff, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), as its chief policy officer.
While such appointments are typically not big news, this one is interesting because SolarCity and Wellinghoff have separately helped create today’s electric grid disruption. And now they will be doing it together.
California-based SolarCity is often credited with figuring out how to bring solar to the masses. In 2008, its solar leasing concept broke through the financing wall keeping residential customers from going solar. With leases, homeowners are spared from making a large capital outlay to install solar panels.
Meanwhile, Wellinghoff has pushed the idea of a customer-centric smart grid in both word and action. He was an early, vocal advocate of distributed generation, predicting grid decentralization well before the idea of ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’ had been conceived. Early statements he made about the ascendency of renewable energy drew controversy but are now proving out.
“Decades before the electricity sector was seriously considering a future distributed grid, Jon was implementing smart policies that would, in 2016, put us right on the cusp of the most exciting shifts that sector has ever seen,” said Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s CEO. “With Jon leading our policy efforts, SolarCity will seek opportunities to collaborate and partner with utilities while ensuring that rooftop solar’s full benefits to ratepayers and to the grid are considered and factored into all rate cases and resource discussions.”
As FERC chairman from 2009-2013, Wellinghoff pushed to ensure that demand response and distributed generation receive fair play in wholesale power markets. His efforts were affirmed by the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding FERC Order 745 which keeps demand response on equal footing with generation in the market.
He also was one of the very early voices warning about the dangers of catastrophic grid failure and the need for more grid security.
Wellinghoff joins one of the top solar players in the U.S. as the industry enjoys tremendous growth. SolarCity says it now provides one out of every four new solar electricity systems nationwide, and enough electricity to power all of the Tesla vehicles being driven. (Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk is chairman of SolarCity.)
With solar’s rise in the market has come a rise in controversy over government policies, particularly at the state level. SolarCity has been a lead voice in a battle over the future of net metering. The company made headlines late last year when it pulled out of Nevada because the state boosted fixed charges to rooftop solar customers and lowered net metering payment.
So Wellinghoff will have plenty to do at SolarCity. This should be a pairing to watch.