State

Utility Regulator Chair Steps Down Amid Conflict Between Governor, Lt. Governor

The Public Utility Commission (PUC) is now captain-less as current chair, Arthur D’Andrea, resigned his commission Tuesday night effective immediately.

The move comes after a Texas Monthly article exposed a March 9 phone call D’Andrea held with Bank of America Securities during which he assured investors he’d do everything he could to prevent the repricing of wholesale electricity transactions during the February blackouts.

“It’s a contentious political issue. The best I can do is put the weight of the commission in favor of not repricing,” he said on the call.

On March 5, the PUC, with D’Andrea at the helm, declined to reprice before the transaction deadline on the Intercontinental Exchange.

Furthermore, D’Andrea stated on the call that he “went from being on a very hot seat to having one of the safest jobs in Texas.” According to D’Andrea, Governor Greg Abbott was not intending to appoint new PUC commissioners in the near future because “[a]t a time like this when I’m communicating all the time with the Legislature, it’s easier to just be going through one person.”

After the story broke, Abbott requested and received D’Andrea’s resignation.

The governor said in a release, “I will be naming a replacement in the coming days who will have the responsibility of charting a new and fresh course for the agency. Texans deserve to have trust and confidence in the Public Utility Commission, and this action is one of many steps that will be taken to achieve that goal.”

That report and the resignation come in the midst of a tense political fight over repricing during which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) stood at odds.

Abbott and Patrick even clashed over the issue, specifically whether D’Andrea had the authority as chair to reprice without the legislature’s directive. Patrick maintained he did, while Abbott demurred, siding with his appointee and former assistant general counsel.

D’Andrea appeared before the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday and provided brief testimony on the question. At issue is an estimated $4.2 billion in excess charges paid for electricity during a 32-hour period after controlled residential blackouts had ceased.

The resignation completes the trifecta on the PUC after the other two commissioners, then-Chair DeAnn Walker and Shelly Botkin, resigned in the winter storm’s aftermath.

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