Gov. Tony Evers has named an engineer and clean energy advocate to the state’s utility regulation board.
Tyler Huebner, who has served for the past seven years as director of Renew Wisconsin, will fill the Public Service Commission seat vacated last month by Mike Huebsch.
“Tyler has spent his entire academic and professional career focused on energy and efficiency,” Evers said in a statement. “He is a passionate leader, whose experience will serve the Commission and the people of Wisconsin well. I look forward to seeing his good work to ensure safe, reliable and affordable utility services for folks across our state.”
A native of Iowa, Huebner holds a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree from Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program. Prior to joining Renew Wisconsin, he worked for the state Department of Administration’s Division of Energy Services.
“I understand the importance of balancing the needs of utilities and customers, while accelerating Wisconsin’s transition into the 21st century,” Huebner said in a statement. “It is an honor to be appointed to the Commission and to continue my career of public service in this new role.”
Evers last year set a goal of making the state’s electricity supply carbon-free by 2050. Two of the state’s largest utilities — Madison Gas and Electric and Xcel Energy — have made similar pledges, while the other three have committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80%.
In a statement, PSC Chairwoman Rebecca Valcq said she looks forward to working with Huebner.
“His insight and background will be invaluable to the Commission during this time of swift transition in the energy sector,” Valcq said.
The PSC is tasked with ensuring safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electric, gas and water services. The agency approves large utility investments and sets rates.
The appointment gives Evers a majority of seats on the three-person commission. Valcq, his first pick, has five years left on her six-year term. Commissioner Ellen Nowak was appointed in December 2018 to serve out the remainder of a term that ends in 2023.
Huebsch, a former GOP lawmaker appointed to the commission in 2015 by Gov. Scott Walker, retired from public service in February.
Huebner’s appointment is effective March 17, and he will serve out the remaining year of the term. His salary will be $126,000, according to the PSC.
Huebner, 38, will be the first commissioner in more than two decades who is not an attorney, lawmaker or legislative aide. The last was John Farrow, a professor of mechanical engineering and husband of a state senator, was appointed by former Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1998.
Both utilities and consumer advocates praised the pick.
While acknowledging that issue advocates can carry some bias into a new position, Huebner’s temperament should make him well-suited for the job, said Bill Skewes, executive director of the Wisconsin Utilities Association, which represents the state’s for-profit utility companies.
“If there’s common ground to be found, he’s a reasonable enough person to work with you to find it,” Skewes said.
Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said Huebner’s experience, including past work on low-income weatherization programs, should be useful amid dramatic changes in the energy sector.
“As the advocate for the state’s residential and small business customers, CUB will push to keep the focus squarely on making sure that customers aren’t overpaying for their utility services during this time of great change,” Content said. “As both the Governor and all of our utilities advance toward a cleaner, low-carbon future, we hope that Tyler’s experience and knowledge will help chart a path toward ‘clean’ done right.”
The appointment was welcomed by clean energy and climate advocates, including some who lamented that Evers’ first pick had worked as an attorney for the state’s largest utility company and who have sued the PSC over recent decisions, including the approval of a $700 million natural gas plant in Superior.
With his expertise and temperament, Huebner should be able to find solutions that work “for the economy, the environment and customers,” said Clean Wisconsin president and CEO Mark Redsten.
“He understands where our state’s energy future is headed,” Redsten said. “He undoubtedly brings a unique perspective that will keep economic and environmental impacts of commission decisions in mind.”
Eric Udelhofen, a solar energy developer and president of the Renew Wisconsin board, said the organization will name an interim director Thursday and launch a search for a permanent replacement. He said Huebner’s appointment is good news for the solar industry.
“He’s not an ideologue,” Udelhofen said. “He’s done a good job of being firm on issues when necessary but also building bridges.”