Mroz to Step Down at BPU, Frees Murphy to Slot in Democrat at Agency

Tom Johnson | March 7, 2018 | Energy & Environment
Former president of state Board of Public Utilities was strong advocate for Gov. Christie's energy policies

Richard Mroz, BPU president
Richard Mroz, a commissioner and former president of the state Board of Public Utilities, is leaving the agency that oversees energy, water, telecommunications, and other regulated utilities next month.

His departure opens up a spot in the agency, which could be facing a significant shift in policies, especially governing the future of the state’s energy policies and a pronounced focus on clean-energy choices like solar and wind power, the latter mostly ignored in the Christie administration.

In a letter to the governor, Mroz said he would resign effective April 14. His letter said he would return to the private sector, but remain in the energy, utility, and infrastructure industries. In a phone interview, he declined to elaborate. Without Mroz, the agency’s board is split between two Republicans and two Democrats.

As president, Mroz was a strong advocate for the Christie administration’s policies, including unyielding support for expansion of natural gas pipelines in the state, as well as backing investments by gas and electric utilities to make their power grids more resilient to extreme storms, such as Hurricane Sandy.

Ironically, his resignation has been made public at a time of heightened criticism of the utilities’ responses to the latest storm, a nor’easter. Yesterday, there were still some 40,000 customers without power several days after the storm hit New Jersey this past weekend.

Mroz cited his accomplishments in the letter. “We advanced emerging technologies, renewable energy and invested in energy efficiency,” he wrote. “And we made decisions balancing the interests of the companies we regulate, ensured reliable and resilient services, all while ensuring that customers pay reasonable rates.”

To critics, among them many clean-energy advocates, those policies fell short of advancing more aggressive goals to have the state rely on renewable energy, such as solar and offshore wind. The BPU repeatedly blocked a small offshore wind project three miles from Atlantic City and never took steps to implement key components of a law aimed at promoting 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind along the Jersey coast.

By leaving, he opens a seat on the board for Gov. Phil Murphy to appoint a commissioner more in tune with the administration’s aggressive clean-energy policy. Mroz questioned that policy in a meeting last week when he noted the state was moving ahead with setting aggressive offshore-wind goals, without having any idea of what it would cost.

His departure also might shift policies that have allowed expansion of natural-gas pipelines throughout New Jersey, despite widespread opposition from local communities and environmental organizations.