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Gov. Larry Hogan names longtime federal civil servant to lead Public Service Commission

Jason Stanek is the next chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission.
Jason Stanek is the next chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission. (Courtesy of Maryland Public Service Commission)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has picked Jason Stanek, a longtime federal civil servant and current Capitol Hill adviser, to serve as the next chairman of the state Public Service Commission, the body that sets utility rates across the state.

Stanek is senior counsel to a House of Representatives energy subcommittee. Before that, he worked 16 years for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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He replaces Kevin Hughes, who had served as a policy adviser to three Democratic governors before former Gov. Martin O’Malley selected him for a five-year term as commission chairman in 2013. That term ends this month.

Hogan said Stanek has “vast experience and understanding” of energy and utility policy.

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Maryland Public Service Commission Chairman Kevin Hughes, the panel's last remaining member who was appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, will step down from his role when his term expires at the end of this month. That means all five of its members will soon be appointees of Gov. Larry Hogan.

“He is knowledgeable in nearly every aspect of the utility industry, and I have no doubt that he will serve Maryland well in this new role,” Hogan said in a statement.

Stanek said the Hogan administration reached out to him. He said he is eager to uphold “a responsibility to ensure the citizens receive reliable, affordable and safe utility services.”

The five-member utility commission sets rates for electricity and other utilities, reviews plans for large power plants and oversees regulation of taxis and other common carriers.

Its chairman has the same voting power as the other members, but is responsible for setting the commission’s agenda and representing the panel before the General Assembly.

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Members of the commission — all of whom are now Hogan appointees — serve staggered five-year terms.

Stanek will steer the commission as it oversees many issues of interest to environmentalists and the energy industry: Electric vehicle infrastructure, energy efficiency, natural gas expansion and large renewable energy projects.

That includes proposals for two offshore wind farms. Ocean City leaders have been fighting to push one of them at least 30 miles from the coast. The commission approved the projects in 2017, but Hughes told state lawmakers this year that the commission could reconsider one or both projects if plans for the number or size of turbines changes significantly.

Ocean City officials say they don't want wind turbines to be built within 30 miles of the resort town's beaches — not even in exchange for free electricity. That is what energy developer US Wind recently offered to appease concerns of disrupted views from Maryland beaches.

Such a decision would now fall to Stanek. While he said he could not speak directly to those projects, he said he expects to see wind and solar power to continue to grow. In the meantime, he said, the state will continue to depend significantly on natural gas and coal, he said.

David Smedick, campaign and policy director for the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said renewable energy advocates hope the offshore wind projects advance under the new chairman’s oversight.

“We would expect the commission would continue to support those projects moving forward,” Smedick said.

Theresa Czarski, Maryland’s deputy people's counsel, said she was not familiar with Stanek but does not expect his appointment to change the commission’s business. The Office of People’s Counsel represents state residents before the commissioners.

“They rule based on the evidence in front of them,” Czarski said.

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