The former CEO of Queensland transmission company Powerlink, Merryn York, has been named as acting chair of the Australian Energy Market Commission, the market’s principle rule maker, pending the announcement of a permanent replacement for long-standing chair John Pierce.
York’s appointment means that, at least for the time being, all four of Australia’s principal energy regulatory bodies are headed by women, a significant transition, and reflective of the rapidly increasing numbers of women in an industry that just two decades ago was dominated by men and their big spinning machines.
The Australian Energy Market Operator is led by managing director and CEO Audrey Zibelman, the Australian Energy Regulator is chaired by Clare Savage, and the the Energy Security Board is chaired by Dr Kerry Schott. All have key roles to play in managing the switch to a grid dominated by renewables and storage.
As well, the Australian Energy Council, the main industry body for big utilities, is headed by Sarah McNamara, while the chair of the Clean Energy Council is Rachel Watson. In Victoria, Kate Symons is the head of Victoria’s state energy (and other essential services) regulator, the Essential Services Commission.
Numbers are also growing at the head of key utilities, with Catherine Tanna leading EnergyAustralia, Maia Schweizer heading the newly formed CleanCo in Queensland and Stephanie Unwin taking the helm of Horizon Power in W.A. In Victoria, the energy minister is Lily D’Ambrosio while Dale Wakefield is minister for renewables and energy in the Northern Territory.
Some say that this transition in the boardroom has been helpful in smoothing the way to the “cultural transition” that needs to accompany the technology and regulatory transition, although it would be misleading to suggest that there is a gender divide over technology, or even market rules and business models.
Pierce steps down on Friday after a 10-year reign that was marked by controversy over his dogmatic adherence to certain principles of the market he helped design, and the failure of the AEMC to keep pace with the rapid change of technologies in the market and the switch to a decentralised, renewable-based grid.
See David Leitch’s analysis here: John Pierce’s legacy: Blinkered policies are fragmenting NEM
The failure to name a replacement for Pierce, despite months of advance notice that he would not seek a third term, has sparked speculation that the states and federal governments, under the auspices of the COAG energy council, are struggling to reach agreement.
One name that has been canvassed is Hydro Tasmania CEO Stephen Davy, a supporter of that’s state “battery of the nation” project that seeks to build more wind farms, and more pumped hydro, and deliver this to Victoria via new sub-sea cables known as the Marinus Link.