The Wilson Building
The Wilson Building Credit: DARROW MONTGOMERY/File

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Greer Gillisdid not apply to fill the vacancy on the District’s Public Service Commission, but she’s now part of the 3-person panel overseeing the city’s energy utilities after a close vote during Tuesday’s D.C. Council meeting.

Councilmembers opposed to her nomination said that Gillis, a career engineering expert who most recently served as director of the Department of General Services, did not possess direct expertise in energy or ratemaking. Some pointed to Gillis’ own committee testimony in which she stated that she only became interested in the job after Beverly Perry, a top aide to Mayor Muriel Bowser and former Pepco lobbyist, approached her about it.

But in an 8-5 vote, councilmembers who supported Gillis said she brings an engineering background to the panel at a time when the city is undertaking infrastructure projects, such as the undergrounding of power lines. At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds noted that Gillis would follow outgoing PSC Chair Betty Ann Kane, who came into the job as a former councilmember without direct energy experience.

“I believe that Ms. Gillis is one of Washington’s most accomplished black female engineers,” said Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd.

The D.C. Council also approved Willie Phillips to chair the Public Service Commission, despite several councilmembers saying they disagreed with his decisive vote to approve the Pepco-Exelon merger in 2016. Only At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman said the vote disqualified him and was the sole councilmember to not vote in favor of Phillips.

Councilmembers Bonds, Todd, Ward 2’s Jack Evans, Ward 7’s Vincent Gray, Ward 5’s Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau, At-Large CM Robert White, and Ward 8’s Trayon White voted in support of Gillis. Gray backed her nomination despite his “reluctance” due to her inexperience in energy. “I have no quarrel with her education,” he said more broadly, echoing other councilmembers who approved of her engineering expertise.

“The selection of somebody who doesn’t have experience or expertise in the area of utility regulation, which is an arcane area, I think is the wrong way to go,” said Council Chair Phil Mendelson, who voted against Gillis.

The D.C. Council also committed on Tuesday to transitioning the District to 100 percent clean energy by 2032, a landmark move that many believe will establish the city as a national leader.

“I think that this moment requires us to make sure that we’re putting in somebody in place who has the experience and skill to jump right into the Public Service Commission,” said Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allendespite noting that Gillis has shown she can “learn on the job” in her previous public service roles.

Some environmental activists and clean energy industry proponents opposed the nominations of Phillips and Gillis last month. They identified a handful of other candidates for both positions that they believed would better advance the city’s renewable energy goals. Phillips’ vote to approve the Pepco-Exelon merger was high on their list of criticisms. That merger, twice rejected by the commission before finally gaining approval 2-1 after revisions, came at the displeasure of environmentalists who said nuclear energy-based Exelon’s motives would not align with the city’s desire to reduce energy use.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, a top critic of the merger, said she met with Phillips individually and came out assured about how he would approach his new position. “I hope it’s not wishful thinking, but I do think that given his background and given his statements with what he intends to do in the future that he’s worthy of a positive vote,” she said.