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Gov. Walz taps career regulator for spot on Minnesota Public Utilities Commission

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Gov. Tim Walz appointed Hwikwon Ham to a six-year term on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday, naming a staff supervisor at the PUC with 20 years of experience in energy regulation and analysis in state government.

Walz said in a statement that Ham will bring “technical expertise and a deep knowledge of Minnesota’s energy grid to the PUC.”

The PUC oversees electric and natural gas utilities in Minnesota, the construction of large new energy infrastructure like transmission lines and pipelines and regulates the telecom industry. It’s a particularly notable role in state government at a time when the energy sector is transitioning away from fossil fuels in Minnesota and utilities are building large-scale projects like new wind and solar farms to meet the state’s directive for a carbon-free energy grid by 2040 to address climate change.

Since 2016, Ham supervised the commission’s regional energy program, working to promote electric transmission projects and advocating for Minnesota’s regulatory program with the regional grid operator, according to a resume submitted to the state in October. Before that, he did planning analysis for the PUC and was an energy rates analyst for the state Department of Commerce.

Ham will replace Matthew Schuerger on the five-member board. Schuerger, an independent, also had a long career as a regulator and is an engineer.

State law says that no more than three PUC commissioners can be members of the same political party, and since there are three Democrats serving on the board, Walz could not tap a fellow DFLer. John Tuma is the only Republican on the commission. The governor did not have to name another GOP member.

Walz’s announcement did not say whether Ham has a political affiliation, and there are no records of political donations published online by the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board or the Federal Elections Commission.

In a cover letter to Walz, Ham said building new electric transmission lines will be “critically important to cost-effectively decarbonize the electric grid,” and said the state should deliver clean energy while navigating challenges like Winter Storm Uri, which slammed the southern U.S. in 2021 and caused a spike in natural gas prices in Minnesota.

Ham also voiced support in his cover letter for “thoughtful and careful regulatory oversight” that takes input from a wide range of people.

“We are facing an exciting but challenging time for the energy industry,” Ham wrote. “The electric power system is in a rebuilding cycle, and there is a great opportunity to achieve our decarbonization goals at an affordable cost.”

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