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Ellen Anderson (’86) Discusses Role as Public Utilities Commission Chair

DECEMBER 5, 2011—In March 2011 Ellen Anderson (’86) resigned from the Minnesota Senate seat she had held since 1993 to take on a new appointment by Gov. Mark Dayton as chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The Nov. 25, 2011, issue of Finance & Commerce features an interview with Anderson about her new job, which according to writer Frank Jossi gives her an opportunity "to play to her inner 'energy geek.'"

While she enjoyed all the contact with people she had in the legislature, Anderson says she welcomes the chance to concentrate on the three issues that are the PUC's responsibility—electricity, natural gas, and telecommunications. She came to the job with plenty of pertinent experience from her 18 years in the Senate, where she chaired the Energy and Telecommunications Committee as well as the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Finance Committee. She also was an author on several energy and consumer protection laws, including the Renewable Energy Standard and Community Based Energy Development laws.

And as a lawyer, she knows how to read briefs and expert opinions and analyze issues in preparation for hearings and decisions, which are plentiful in her new role. The article estimates that each year the PUC is contacted by 25,000 customers, reviews 2,000 complaints against utility companies, and hears 300 cases. Anderson describes the PUC's role as threefold: "We're quasi-judicial, quasi-legislative and quasi-administrative."

The PUC is composed of five commissioners who serve staggered six-year terms. The governor appoints the commissioners, who must be approved by the Senate, and designates one to serve as chair. In addition to Chairwoman Anderson, the current PUC consists of fellow Law School alumni Vice Chair Phyllis Reha (’72) and Commissioner J. Dennis O'Brien (’67), Commissioner David Boyd, and Commissioner Betsy Wergin.

Anderson sees big changes ahead for energy, beginning with the effects of the new Environmental Protection Agency rules, which could shut down many coal plants across the nation. She expects that the PUC will look into use of a "smart grid" for electricity, production of more shale gas, integration of renewable energy, and other issues. Trying to determine energy needs a decade or two in the future is challenging, she says, because an energy picture that has been "relatively stable for decades" is now changing rapidly.

Telecommunications is also changing so radically that earlier goals no longer make sense, Anderson says. Wireless, cable, and land-line technologies not only overlap, they "all have a completely different regulatory and legal framework." The Federal Communications Commission, now in the midst of a redesign, will undoubtedly bring more change when it finalizes decisions on carrier compensation and broadband deployment, she notes.

Regarding Minnesota, Anderson's outlook is positive. She sees the "20 by 2025" legislation, passed in 2007 and calling for 20% of energy to come from renewable sources by 2025, as a "great success." Minnesota's energy portfolio "is getting more diverse, which makes it more reliable, and it's getting more Minnesota-oriented," she says. "We're producing energy in our state. It is bringing jobs and economic development to our state."

After Law School graduation, Anderson clerked for Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Gary L. Crippen (’60), then was a trial attorney from 1987-90 in the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office. During the next two years, leading up to her November 1992 election to the Senate, she was research director for the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's 1990 campaign and an attorney with Education Minnesota, a union advocating for public education.

Some of Anderson’s recent activities include service on the Minnesota Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and on the White House Working Group of State Legislators on Energy and Climate Control. The Heritage Council was created by the Minnesota legislature in 2008 to make funding recommendations on projects relating to restoration and protection of wetlands, prairies, forests, and wildlife habitat. The White House Working Group was formed in 2009 to draw on the expertise of legislators from states with progressive clean energy and green jobs legislation.

Anderson is also an adjunct faculty member in the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education. She recently was a guest speaker at the Law School’s Climate Change and Clean Energy capstone course.

The full article is available to Finance & Commerce subscribers in the energy section of the news at http://finance-commerce.com/category/energy.


Ellen Anderson

Ellen Anderson (’86)