State

Embattled Public Utility Commission Chair Resigns Amid Winter Storm Fallout

A fortnight after Texas’ lights went out, Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) Chair DeAnn Walker has resigned.

“Effective immediately, I resign as the Chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas. I believe it is in the best interest of this Great State of Texas,” her letter reads.

Walker was appointed to the PUC by Governor Greg Abbott in 2017. She previously served as a policy advisor to Abbott and director of regulatory affairs for CenterPoint Energy before that.

She testified in front of both the House and Senate during committee hearings last week. In each, Walker faced a barrage of sharply pointed questions and criticism for her and the PUC’s role in the blackouts.

Walker responded to the criticism from legislators, stating in the letter, “I stand proud that I worked endless hours over the past two and a half weeks to return electric power to the grid. Despite the treatment I received from some legislators, I am proud that I spoke the truth.”

She laid blame on many different entities in addition to her agency for what transpired including “the gas companies, Railroad Commission of Texas, the electric generators, the transmission and distribution utilities, the electric cooperatives, municipally owned utilities, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and the legislature.”

“I know that I acted with the best of intentions and used my best judgement on how to respond once the crisis was upon us, as well as to the days that led to the crisis,” she concluded.

Walker sent an email notice of her resignation to all involved with the PUC at 2:20 p.m. Monday afternoon before making her announcement public.

Just hours before, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick called for her resignation, joining a handful of legislators who did the same after her committee hearing appearances.

After Patrick’s statement, an ERCOT spokesman stated, “Given the recent resignations of several ERCOT board members … our Corporate Secretary will be working with the current, remaining members to consider this request.”

As PUC chair, Walker was a non-voting member on the ERCOT board of directors.

Walker and the PUC were instrumental in how the Texas blackouts unfolded, most notably ordering the wholesale electricity price to “accurately reflect” the scarcity of the market. This resulted in the cost ballooning from $1,200 megawatt-hour (MWh) to its cap of $9,000 MWh.

Some customers received utility bills in the thousands of dollars for a few days of service while one electricity cooperative has already declared bankruptcy as a result of the exorbitant costs.

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