August 2022: Commissioner Gabriella Passidomo
Commissioner, you were a practicing attorney before your appointment to the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC). Did you plan on working in the energy field when you went to law school?
I knew I wanted to practice in the environmental and/or energy space, but prior to law school, did not have a clear idea of how or in what way that would materialize. My second year of law school, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take a course on federal energy policy taught by a veteran energy attorney with decades of practical experience. That course exposed me to the complexities and nuance of the industry, as well as the many interesting legal questions the sector provokes and continues to face. That course really set my goal towards working in the energy space in some capacity. Then I took every opportunity I could to engage myself in all aspects of industry– from upstream natural resource extraction in the Permian basin, now down to regulating retail sales of energy on the distribution side.
One of our goals at Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum is to illustrate the many different opportunities to work with this industry sector. From your perspective on the PSC, do you see the opportunities growing for high wage, sustainable jobs in energy regardless of education field?
Absolutely. One of the reasons I was so fascinated with this industry is the complexities and multiple disciplines involved in both creating good energy policy and executing market demand. You do not need to be a lawyer or engineer to be valued in this industry. Increased electrification will call for skilled electricians. Energy efficiency measures and protocols will necessitate good operations managers. Greater emphasis on energy independence will intensify domestic manufacturing efforts and require the work force and supply chain management to support it. I could go on and on, but regardless of educational background, if you are interested in a fast pace and ever evolving work environment, the energy sector is a fantastic place to look.
For readers not familiar with the role of the PSC, what would you say is the most critical component of what you do?
The FPSC’s mission is to facilitate the efficient provision of safe and reliable utility services at fair prices. Breaking that down, what does it mean? It means that the Commission is charged with ensuring reliable and resilient utility services– electric, natural gas, telephone, water, and wastewater– are available to all consumers in the state at reasonable prices while offering rate base regulated utilities an opportunity to earn a fair return on their investments. Through a transparent and impartial regulatory process, the Commission must balance the interests of all parties for each respective docket that comes before us. I can’t say which component of the job is more critical than another, because that would tip the scales that we very diligently balance.
As you reflect now, what are the skillsets and strengths that most contributed to your selection on the PSC?
As a previous regulatory lawyer, I have a profound appreciation for regulatory process, the legislature’s imperative role of crafting the statutory framework that guides our policy, and the evolving jurisdictional divide between state and federal authority. However, after being on the Commission for over a year now, there are much more nuanced skillsets that contribute to my ability to impartially and objectively evaluate every petition or docket that comes across my desk. My relentless (even call it obsession) for trying to understand every detail of a case reassures me that after I’ve voted on something, I did it informed and wholeheartedly within my understanding of the public interest.
If you could pick just 2 challenges/hurdles in the energy sector over the next 10 years that bring either the greatest threat or opportunities, what would those be?
Because I am an eternal optimist, I’ll focus on the tremendous opportunities and growth that will define the next decade of the energy sector.
The increasingly rapid adoption of high-impact clean energy technologies, in conjunction with cost declines in globally scaled manufacturing, is fueling a rapid shift in the way utilities, industry, and even individuals generate, transmit, and consume energy. Coordinated efforts from all stakeholders can accelerate this transition through targeted research and development in areas like hydrogen production, long-term energy storage, carbon capture technologies, and insulation materials and industrial processes.
The second area I’ll focus on is the digitalization of the energy sector. If not instituted thoughtfully, this can cause a tremendous threat to the security of our electric and pipeline grids. However, digitalization can also be key to integrating renewables in our electricity systems, improving reliability across power grids, reducing capital costs, and providing greater energy autonomy and control for individual consumers through energy efficiency programs.
In closing, what advice would you give to the 2nd year college student looking for a career in energy?
Be curious and relentlessly educate yourself about all aspects of the industry. That way, when an opportunity arises, you have the foundation and confidence to step into a new and more challenging role.