A new state regulator resigned Tuesday — a day before his first public meeting - Albuquerque Journal

A new state regulator resigned Tuesday — a day before his first public meeting

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is housed in a building on Palace Avenue in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

Brian Moore, who Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed in December as one of three new members of the state Public Regulation Commission, unexpectedly resigned on Tuesday and was replaced by a seasoned energy industry expert, James F. Ellison Jr.

Moore submitted a letter of resignation to the governor stating that he did not meet the statutory educational requirements, which mandate that all commissioners hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as business administration, finance or engineering.

Moore apparently did study at the University of Denver, where he majored in business, finance and statistical analysis, according to his application for appointment to the PRC. But he never actually graduated, said Governor’s Office spokesperson Nora Meyers Sackett.

It’s unclear how that disqualifying factor got past the seven-member PRC nominating committee. The committee included Moore on a list of nine potential candidates it sent to the governor, who then chose three of the nominees, including Moore, to serve staggered terms on the new commission.

“We weren’t involved in the nominating process,” Sackett told the Journal.

In a news release Tuesday afternoon, the Governor’s Office said nominees applied through, and were independently vetted by, the PRC nominating committee.

Cydney Beadles, a nominating committee member and clean energy program manager for the environmental group Western Resource Advocates, said she, and likely other committee members, assumed from Moore’s application that he had graduated from the University of Denver, although he didn’t explicitly state that.

“There’s no reason to believe that this was anything other than an honest mistake on all fronts,” Beadles told the Journal.

Moore is a Republican and former state legislator who represented eastern New Mexico from 2000-2008. He also served as deputy chief of staff for former Gov. Susana Martinez from 2011-2012, and is currently president and CEO of the Ranch Market supermarket in Clayton.

A Jan. 6 story in the industry publication California Energy Markets did question Moore’s educational qualifications, but the author, Abigail Sawyer, said Moore declined to comment on his degree status in a telephone interview.

It’s unclear why Lujan Grisham chose Moore to serve on the commission. But the state statute that mandates the PRC’s conversion this year from a five-member elected body to a three-member commission appointed by the governor – and subject to confirmation by the state Senate – requires that no more than two of the three appointees be from any one party.

The other two new appointees – former federal energy official Gabriel Aguilera and utility engineer Patrick O’Connell – are both Democrats. They both have extensive experience in the electric industry, Aguilera as a former senior policy adviser and industry analyst with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and O’Connell as former resource planning director for Public Service Company of New Mexico, and, more recently, as deputy director of Western Resource Advocates’ clean energy program.

Aguilera is a graduate of New Mexico State University and holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland. O’Connell has a civil engineering degree from the University of New Mexico.

In the announcement about Moore’s resignation Tuesday, the Governor’s Office said Lujan Grisham has now chosen Sandia National Laboratories employee James F. Ellison Jr. as the new appointee to replace Moore.

Ellison has three decades of experience in electric utility operations and power markets, currently serving as the principal grid analyst for Sandia’s Grid Modernization Group, according to the announcement. He previously worked as well with two other Sandia analysis groups studying power grids, the implementation of renewable energy and analyzing the impact of natural disasters on energy infrastructure.

Ellison holds a bachelor’s degree from Clemson University, two master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a master’s from Stanford University. Politically, he is a registered voter who declined to state a party affiliation, Sackett said.

The new three-member commission was supposed to take office on Jan. 1, and was expected to preside over the PRC’s first open public meeting Wednesday, but it’s unclear if Ellison will be sworn in in time to sit on the bench, PRC spokesman Patrick Rodriguez told the Journal on Tuesday evening.

Both O’Connell and Aguilera have been sworn in by notaries, although the Senate must still confirm their appointments as commissioners in the upcoming legislative session, which starts next week.

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