After more than three years as New York's top utility regulator, Audrey Zibelman is leaving her position. And the state. And the country.
This morning, Australia's energy market operator announced that Zibelman will be taking over as chief executive in March. The organization, called AEMO, operates wholesale power markets, wholesale natural gas markets, trading hubs and gas transmission systems throughout Australia.
Zibelman leaves New York's Public Service Commission at a delicate time. The state is two and a half years into Reforming the Energy Vision, the utility reformation plan announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014.
Zibelman was tasked with figuring out how to make the state's utility distribution system more competitive, dynamic and distributed -- while also encouraging utilities to find new ways of interacting with customers and making money from distributed energy services.
The REV process has been complicated and, at times, contentious. As the state looks to animate a distributed energy market, it has dealt with interconnection problems, conflicts over rate design, concerns about data sharing, and slow progress with utility pilot programs.
But throughout the process, Commissioner Zibelman has been well respected by utilities, distributed energy companies and various advocacy groups with competing visions for how New York's electricity system should evolve.
Steve Propper, GTM Research's director of grid edge, said Zibelman's departure could slow the reformation process.
"The biggest question is how will this impact the speed at which REV initiatives are implemented in the state (which have already been met with skepticism). REV is hardly operational, so with its key champion stepping down, the PSC will need to act quickly to continue to show real commitment and instill confidence in the process," said Propper.
It may also buy utilities -- now called "distributed system platform providers" -- some time to build on their implementation plans.
Zibelman has a long history in the electric power sector. She's worked for the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, held positions at Xcel Energy, served as chief operating officer of PJM, and founded Viridity Energy, a demand response software company that was just acquired by Ormat for $35 million.
“Audrey’s vast experience in creating and managing new wholesale electricity markets, and transforming existing energy markets and large power systems will further strengthen the work that AEMO has undertaken to support Australia’s energy industry transformation,” said Dr. Tony Marxsen, chair of AEMO, in a statement released this morning.
Australia's power system operator is in the throes of its own distributed energy transition. With a surge of rooftop solar, wind power, and now, battery storage -- plus ballooning electricity prices due to high network access charges -- Australian regulators are being forced to reimagine wholesale markets. And that's why they've turned to Zibelman, who has deep experience in both distributed energy and wholesale market design.
“Audrey has the vision to lead, guide and support our organization and the broader Australian energy industry as we transition our energy markets and reform power systems planning and management," said Marxsen, in his statement.
With New York's electricity market reform process broadening in scope, Zibelman's replacement will oversee an increasingly complicated regulatory mandate in the state.