Whitmer appoints energy-efficiency leader to Public Service Commission

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday named an energy-efficiency and sustainability official to Michigan’s regulatory body that oversees utilities and telecommunication companies.

Tremaine Phillips’s six-year appointment to the three-member Public Service Commission will take effect unless the state Senate disapproves within 60 days. He would succeed Norm Saari, whose term expired two weeks ago.

Whitmer cited the “diverse” work background of Phillips, 32, who leads the Cincinnati 2030 District. It is working to cut buildings’ energy use, water consumption and transportation emissions by 50% by 2030.

He formerly was vice president of strategic initiatives for Ohio-based Empower Gas & Electric, which provides energy-efficiency services for utilities, manufacturers and other businesses.

He also briefly worked for what was then the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth in former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration before later working at an East Lansing-based nonprofit and co-founding a clean energy-related media and communications firm.

Environmental groups and at least one business organization applauded Whitmer’s decision to choose Phillips, who has an undergraduate degree from Michigan State University and master’s and law degrees from Ohio State University.

“Tremaine Phillips is a leader who is passionate about expanding more affordable clean energy options for citizens and businesses,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

In June, nearly two dozen groups wrote an “open letter” to the Democratic governor urging her to appoint a “stalwart advocate” to the commission to prioritize equitable utility rates and environmental justice and to fight climate change. Saari, a former longtime lobbyist for major Michigan electric and natural gas utility Consumers Energy, was appointed by Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2015.

Phillips is Whitmer’s second appointee to the regulatory commission. In February, she added former state lawmaker Dan Scripps. No more than two of the three members can be from the same political party.