He was a Fairhope Pirate and University of Montevallo SGA president.
Now, Willie L. Phillips, Jr. is the only person from Alabama to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
The FERC is to interstate electric and gas utilities what the Public Service Commission is within the state. FERC is an independent agency that regulates interstate transmission of natural gas, oil, and electricity.
It was no surprise to anyone in the nation's energy regulatory community when Phillips was named Chair of the nation's top energy regulatory agency on Friday. He has served as a Commissioner on the FERC since November 2021 and as acting FERC chair since January 2023.
Phillips had been chair of the Public Service Commission for the District of Columbia from 2018-2021. He was the youngest PSC chair in Washington, D.C.
Before the D.C. PSC, Phillips had served as assistant general counsel for the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a non-profit international regulatory group charged with ensuring the security and reliability of the bulk power system.
He had worked for two law firms where he advised clients on regulatory compliance, litigation and policy matters.
The Alabama Public Service Commission and the other state utility regulatory bodies are members of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). Phillips has been active in NARUC, where he served on the NARUC Board of Directors.
Alabama's PSC Commissioner Jeremy Oden (R-Eva) served as national director of NARUC and on its electricity committee, along with Phillips.
Phillips' leadership qualities had emerged while he was still a student and in his home state of Alabama. At the University of Montevallo, Phillips was elected president of the Student Government Association. He earned a Bachelor of Science at Montevallo. He went on to earn a Juris Doctor from Howard University School of Law, a historic black university.
University of Montevallo president Dr. John W. Stewart III said of Phillips' appointment, “We are so proud that Willie Phillips has achieved this high, national position. He brings great honor and credit to our institution as an alum, but also as an individual of high integrity. I also personally know him to be a wonderful family man. We offer him our congratulations and know he will serve our country with distinction and efficacy."
"This is a historic moment during which President Biden appointed Willie as the first Black person to head the FERC. We are proud of all of our alums for their important contributions and accomplishments. This is indeed a special one," he added.
Phillips has not forgotten where he came from. In 2021, he came home and served as the Baccalaureate speaker at Montevallo's Fall Commencement. Twenty years earlier, as a student, he had received his diploma at the same ceremony. Twenty years.
Phillips lives in the D.C. area with his wife of 16 years, Gabrielle, and their two children, Peyton and Tripp.
Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].