A top official at the Minnesota Department of Commerce is leaving her job after roughly a year, an exit that comes after veteran staff members in the energy division raised conflict of interest concerns about her marriage to a prominent solar industry lobbyist.

Louise Miltich, assistant commissioner of regulatory affairs, is joining the energy nonprofit Great Plains Institute as executive vice president.

She was appointed to the Commerce post in February 2023 but had worked in other positions at the department since 2016.

"While I will miss Louise's leadership and expertise at Commerce, I am excited about her new role and having the opportunity to continue to partner with her as we build a path toward a clean energy future," said Commissioner Grace Arnold in a statement Wednesday.

As assistant commissioner of regulatory affairs, Miltich and her staff offered advice and analysis to the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on issues that included Minnesota's community solar program. Her husband, Curtis Zaun, lobbies the PUC as director of policy and regulatory affairs for the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, an influential trade group representing developers.

Arnold said in January that Miltich had pointed out her and Zaun's relationship when she was appointed but that the department saw no conflict of interest based on state law and policy.

Miltich said in the news release that she was grateful for what she had learned and "for the many relationships built over my years at the Department of Commerce."

The agency has expanded rapidly and taken on a larger role in shaping Minnesota's transition to carbon-free energy after state legislators last year passed a historically large energy budget and a law targeting an emissions-free electric grid by 2040.

Great Plains spokesman Drew Henry said Miltich brings well-rounded experience and leadership to the nonprofit. "We're really excited she's coming on board," he said.