The deputy director general of the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Benn Barr, as been appointed as the new chief executive of the Australian Energy Markets Commission, which sets the rules for the country’s energy markets.
Barr replaces the former chief executive, Anne Pearson, who announced she was stepping down from the leadership position in October last year.
In his role with the Queensland resources department, Barr worked closely with the COAG Energy Council, serving as Queensland’s representative in meetings of senior bureaucrats, and has more than a decade of experience working on energy policy reform with the Queensland government.
Barr previously completed an economics degree at James Cook University in Queensland and completed additional governance studies at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Barr steps into the leadership role at Australia’s chief energy rule maker at a crucial moment in the Australian energy market, at a time when governments and market participants are pursuing fundamental reforms to in response to an accelerating shift towards distributed and low-emissions energy sources.
“Working with the COAG Energy Council, federal and state governments on energy policy over most of my career I have seen that market bodies working collaboratively and with integrity can make a real difference,” Barr said.
“To be successful, the transition underway in the energy sector requires deep analytical thinking and engagement across the energy sector, governments and the community. That is the AEMC’s great strength – and the reason why I am so attracted to this role.”
The AEMC has often attracted criticism for being sluggish to respond to the transition underway in the energy market, particularly from Victorian energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio.
The length and complexity of the rule change process overseen by the AEMC, as well as the agency’s reputation for being too conservative in its approach to allowing changes to the energy market rules will be challenges that Barr will inherit as the new chief executive.
The head of the AEMC’s board of commissioners was confident that Barr was the right selection for the leadership role, and will bring substantial knowledge of the challenges facing the energy market and the operation of the key ministerial forum pushing for reforms.
“Benn has over 15 years’ experience in energy and climate change policy and demonstrates a deep understanding of the national energy market and opportunities for renewable energy,” said AEMC chair John Pierce, who is also expected to step down in May after serving two five year terms.
“He has expertise in the energy market and regulation, with a track record of providing strategic policy advice to government across a diverse range of resource management areas, as well as contributing to the national Council of Australian Governments (COAG) energy agenda.
“He has a strong interest in effective modern governance having recently undertaken professional development at the John F Kennedy School for Government at Harvard. He was the Secretary of the Council for the Australian Federation, a collaborative intergovernmental group of state and territory First Ministers, and has served as the Queensland Government’s senior official for the COAG Energy Council.”
Barr’s appointment will commence from 15 April.