87th LegislatureEnergyState HouseState SenateAbbott, Patrick Clash Over Utilities Commission Chair, Electricity Repricing

The top two elected officials in the state butt heads over electricity repricing and the Public Utility Commission chair.
March 13, 2021
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An unstoppable force met an immovable object Friday evening when Lt. Governor Dan Patrick called on Governor Greg Abbott to replace Arthur D’Andrea as the Public Utility Commission (PUC) chairman.

D’Andrea, appointed to the PUC by Abbott in 2017 before assuming the position of chair post-blackouts, appeared before a House and Senate committee this week to discuss the issue of repricing wholesale electricity transactions made during the Texas outages.

In short, the repricing issue stems from an estimated billion-dollar overcharge in wholesale electricity prices due to a PUC order that adjusted day-ahead prices to “accurately reflect” the market’s scarcity during February’s winter storm.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, with backing from most of the senate, is adamantly in favor of repricing and has pushed D’Andrea to issue such a price “correction” in his capacity as PUC chair. On Thursday, Patrick, for only the second time in his tenure as lt. governor, joined a senate committee hearing to question D’Andrea over the issue.

D’Andrea stated before both the House and Senate committees that he doesn’t believe he alone has the authority to reprice. In his view, that ability only exists when the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) makes a mistake — something he does not believe happened in this instance. D’Andrea did say, however, that if the legislature commands it through legislation, there is more legal ground on which to stand.

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Patrick did not emerge convinced by D’Andrea’s opposition to repricing, and further doubled down in a Friday evening statement. “In light of the PUC Chair’s refusal to take any corrective action, despite the fact that he has the authority and the evidence is clear, I am asking Gov. Abbott to intercede on this issue,” Patrick emphasized.

He then took it one step further and asked Abbott to remove D’Andrea as PUC chair when new appointees emerge to fill the two current vacancies.

“Mr. D’Andrea’s position requires both professional competence and honesty and he demonstrated little of either in the hearings yesterday. I believe most Texans who watched the Senate Jurisprudence hearing would conclude that D’Andrea should not have full authority over ERCOT or be part of the solution moving forward.”

Abbott, in his first such statement on the issue other than declaring it an emergency item, sided with his appointee, saying, “As a former Texas Supreme Court Justice and former Attorney General, I agree with the position of the PUC Chair about his inability to take the action you requested.”

“You asked that I intervene to ensure the right thing is done. The Governor does not have independent authority to accomplish the goals you seek. The only entity that can authorize the solution you want is the legislature itself. That is why I made this issue an emergency item for the legislature to consider this session.”

He also added that the debate over whether the pricing order constitutes a “billing error” or a “deliberate decision to take action to save the lives of Texans in their homes” will be a question decided in court.

D’Andrea is the last man standing on the PUC after both DeAnn Walker, the former chair, and Shelly Botkin resigned their positions during the fallout.

The legislature will continue to deliberate on this issue as the financial consequences of the Texas freeze only loom larger.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.