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ERCOT Chair Steps Down Citing Personal Reasons

Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) just announced board of directors’ chair, Jan Newton, has resigned citing personal reasons.  Ms. Newton served on the ERCOT board since 2006 and became the chair in 2008.

Her resignation is the second major departure from ERCOT in the past eight months. In September of 2009, CEO Bob Kahn submitted his and ERCOT is still in the process of a nationwide search for his replacement.  Conjecture about the possibility that the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) chair, Barry Smitherman, (who also serves on the ERCOT board of directors as a ex-officio member) had thrown his hat in the ring for the position was cut short when Chairman Smitherman announced publically that he had decided not to pursue the job. 

At the time, while energy watchdogs agreed that Smitherman was highly qualified for the ERCOT job, they were also concerned that such an employment bid posed a conflict — first as a PUC commissioner charged with establishing the rules for ERCOT’s operation and, second, as a board member (albeit a non-voting one) of the agency he was asking to hire him. It was also unclear whether the laws governing the PUC would allow a commissioner to seek the ERCOT job.  Texas’ Public Utility Regulatory Act says commissioners can’t seek employment with a “public utility” while serving on the PUC.  ERCOT doesn’t technically qualify as a public utility, however industry insiders felt it was a gray area, and the spirit of the law looked prohibitive.  So the search goes on.

Michehl Gent, who also joined the board in 2006, will step up as the incoming chair.  Gent was former president and CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corp.