Larson files bill to abolish Public Utility Commission
In light of rolling blackouts, unreliable delivery of electricity and other ongoing problems with the PUC, the bill would create an elected oversight board to ensure accountability and adequate service delivery.
AUSTIN - After spending months researching and drafting the 64 page bill, State Representative Lyle Larson filed HB 1302 today. This bill would abolish the Public Utility Commission (PUC), transfer its duties to the Railroad Commission (RRC) and rename the Railroad Commission the Texas Energy and Communications Commission.
For months, Larson has questioned the agency's lack of transparency, lack of accountability to Texans, and most recently its failure to accomplish its mission. In light of energy suppliers' failure to adequately respond to extreme weather conditions last week, which caused rolling blackouts and widespread power outages all over central and south Texas, Larson demands an explanation.
"It's inexcusable that energy suppliers could not meet the demands of consumers in central Texas," Larson said. "We deserve to know why this failure happened. There are several questions that must be answered: Did the PUC verify the contingency plans of each generator? Did the PUC aggregate all power generating plants through an actuarial model to ensure capacity for sufficient delivery? What could the PUC have done differently to ensure prevention of rolling blackouts and power outages all over central and south Texas?"
Currently, the PUC oversees electric utilities and telecommunications and is led by three commissioners appointed by the governor to six-year terms. By contrast, the RRC regulates the oil and gas industry and is led by three commissioners elected by the people of Texas to six-year terms.
There are compelling reasons to combine these agencies. As evidenced by the power outages experienced last week and the failure of gas delivery to power plants, it makes perfect sense to merge the RRC and the PUC. This would help to increase efficiency and close the gaps between the roles of the two Commissions. In addition, the Texas Energy and Communications Commission would have the ability to better facilitate the use of Texas natural gas in power plants.
It is not hard to understand why there has been a breakdown in delivery of service, as the PUC Chairman spent much of last year pursuing ERCOT's top job (a position paying over twice his salary). Although, after last week's debacle, the PUC board has shied away from accepting responsibility for their lack of oversight.
"Instead of diverting blame to ERCOT, the PUC board should take ownership of and be held accountable for this problem," Larson continued. "Our intuition tells us and numerous studies confirm that elected representatives are more accountable and far more likely to do what we, the voters, want. Elected officials risk being thrown out of office if they don't. It's time that we give the people of Texas the opportunity to hold these regulators accountable."
Other issues overseen by the PUC that would be better handled by elected officials include eminent domain and oversight of utility rates. To provide for the transmission of electricity, the PUC has the power to condemn private property and allow electric companies to erect power lines therein. As it stands, landowners have no recourse if the PUC chooses to condemn their property for this purpose. The PUC also regulates rates charged by investor-owned utilities and is charged with ensuring consumer protection. According to a recent study prepared by The London School of Economics and CornellUniversity, states that elect their public utility commissioners have lower rates than those that appoint them.
Since 1991, there have been several legislative efforts to consolidate and streamline these regulatory agencies. With the PUC slated for Sunset review this session and as Texas faces a daunting $25 billion shortfall, now is the optimal time to pursue and achieve this change.
HB 1302 will follow the standard legislative process.
Lyle Larson represents northern Bexar County. He serves on the Culture, Recreation and Tourism, Local and Consent Calendars and Natural Resources Committees. For more information, please visit www.lylelarson.org.