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The state of the Public Utility Commission

News item #1:

While many Texans last week were worried about sky-high electric bills from February’s winter storms, the state’s sole utility commissioner was privately reassuring out-of-state investors who profited from the crisis that he was working to keep their windfall safe.

Texas Monthly has obtained a recording of a 48-minute call on March 9 in which Texas Public Utility Commission chairman Arthur D’Andrea discussed the fallout from the February power crisis with investors. During that call, which was hosted by Bank of America Securities and closed to the public and news media, D’Andrea took pains to ease investors’ concerns that electricity trades, transacted at the highest prices the market allows, might be reversed, potentially costing trading firms and publicly traded generating companies millions of dollars.

“I apologize for the uncertainty,” D’Andrea said, promising to put “the weight of the commission” behind efforts to keep billions of dollars from being returned to utilities that were forced—thanks to decisions by the PUC—to buy power at sky-high prices, even after the worst of the blackout had passed.

Billed as “Learning the Texas Two Step: A Chat with the PUCT,” the call originally was scheduled for early February but was postponed until after the winter storm. The conversation shows a coziness between a top Texas regulator and some of the biggest players in the electricity market at a time when the PUC’s oversight is under fire from lawmakers. At one point, during a discussion about whether natural gas, which also saw huge price spikes during the crisis, would be “repriced,” D’Andrea said no, adding that most legislators understand that gas is priced by global markets and is out of their purview. “But I’ll let you know if I hear anything crazy on it,” D’Andrea said.

You can click over and listen to the audio and read the explanations for the words that D’Andrea used if you want. In the meantime, here’s news item #2, from later that same day.

Public Utility Commission Chair Arthur D’Andrea, the only remaining member of the three-seat board that regulates Texas utilities, is resigning from his post, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday night.

Abbott said in a statement that he asked for and accepted D’Andrea’s resignation and plans to name “a replacement in the coming days who will have the responsibility of charting a new and fresh course for the agency.” D’Andrea’s resignation will be effective immediately upon the appointment of a successor, according to a copy of D’Andrea’s resignation letter that was obtained by The Texas Tribune.

He is the latest in a long line of officials who have left the PUC or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas since last month’s deadly winter storm plunged large swaths of Texas into subfreezing temperatures and overwhelmed the state’s electricity infrastructure, causing massive power outages. At least 57 people died in Texas as a result of the storm — most of them from hypothermia — according to preliminary data the state health department released Monday.

The reason for D’Andrea’s resignation was not immediately clear late Tuesday.

I think we have a reasonable hypothesis about it – this article goes on to mention that Texas Monthly story about D’Andrea’s phone call. None of the members of the PUC – all of whom were appointed by Greg Abbott – remain. Heck of a job, there. Be more mad at the PUC. Kimberley Reeves has more.

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3 Comments

  1. Flypusher says:

    “ …the state’s sole utility commissioner was privately reassuring out-of-state investors who profited from the crisis that he was working to keep their windfall safe.”

    The only real difference that I can see between these people and those who try to hike the costs of things like water, ice, plywood, gas, etc. in the aftermath of a hurricane is social class, and by extension, the likelihood of any repercussions.

    As a side note, this is why I will never sign up for autopay.

  2. Lobo says:

    Folks: This is what crony capitalism looks like.

    Note that Abbott has changed his tune: He did *not* thank Arturo “Two-Step with Wall Street” D’Andrea for his services for the State of Texas, unlike he did with Chairman [sic] Walker.

    D’Adrea reportedly expressed his thanks for the opportunity to serve the State of Texas. – Really?

    — Some service!

    Here is a different take:

    LONE STAR KLEPTOCRACY MAKES AL CAPONE LOOK LIKE AN ALTAR BOY *)

    D Walker and D’Andrea used their public offices to orchestrate a heist of historic proportions. D’Andrea then did what he could as last man standing to make sure the robber barons would get to keep the loot, lest their expectations to enjoy the fruits of their massive and brazen hijack of the energy market be upset.

    And the third commissioner wouldn’t even yield on retroactively jacking up the price to “incentivize” production of energy that had already been consumed by the lucky ones among us whose lights and heaters were still on. — Huh?

    JUST CHILL: 4+ MILLION TEXANS AS HOSTAGES

    How is all this not criminal? Using the power grid to extract billions of dollars from Texans, while several millions of life-and-blood consumers had already been “shed” and were shivering in their homes. Then telling the public: Many more of you would have perished, had the massive billion-dollar ransom not been paid, or at least contracted for, with a payment plan later to be worked out with Wall Street? — Think securitization. Yet another golden opportunity for crony capitalists to make a killing at the expense of electricity-dependent Texans relegated to the status of suckers and supplicants.

    How is all this not criminal? How not with super-predatory and hyper-aggravating circumstances?

    GETTING SCREWED BY THE HETERO-GENDERED PUC

    On a seemingly trivial semantic and grammatical point, note that Texas law uses the masculine form for the office of top electricity regulator, which is apparently the reason the PUC ‘s website denominated DeAnn Walker as the Chair*man* of the PUC. Some quality journalists/editors use the gender-neutral “chairperson” in their PUC coverage, while others refer to Walker and D’Andrea as chairwoman and chairman, respectively, thus identifying the prima facie sex of the incumbent office holder, even though those attributes can also be inferred from their first names.

    There is no need for such inconsistency in man/woman/human gendering, though.

    Why not just call them chair? — The humanity of these tools of industry interests is in doubt anyhow.

    MUSICAL GENDER-NEUTRAL COMMISSION CHAIRS: From DeAnn to D’Andrea

    Note also — whether to the latter-day feminists’ delight or otherwise — that Texans got screwed by a modified triumvirate consisting of 2 women, including 1 chairwoman, and 1 man. That could, of course, be re-conceptualized and cured — and the desirable gender balance thus achieved — by double-counting the sole maschio, Signor D’Andrea.

    And with good cause: He first screwed us as Commissioner (by voting to fix the energy price at $9,000 p/MWh in homage to the shivers-inducing scarcity), then as “Last Man Standing” and pleasantly more pliable singular Chair (by refusing to return the loot upon getting caught and reassuring the Street that he would do the best to safeguard the loot).

    Ma che facciamo?

    Regarding that pliability and amiability to the amici, here is D’Andrea in his non-public call to his Wall Street audience, all gender-neutrally: “I think they probably enjoy having just one *person* up there because they can secure promises from me.” (stars added)

    TEXAS BAD WEATHER EVENT, ENCORE ?

    Moral of the story: Forget about race, ethnicity, gender, and sex. — The ugly truth is that Texans got screwed.

    Did they ask for it? Are they going to relax and enjoy it?

    Bad weather. It’s inevitable, ain’t it?

    ——–
    *) Holy See Canon Law Note: Since Vatican II, girls may be alter servers. The more traditional term acolyte can also be used to cover both sexes at the altar.

  3. Jen says:

    Elections aren’t the only thing that have consequences, polls do too. Abbott’s stubbornly high approval ratings (unbelievably including ‘Democrats’) mean that he doesn’t have to fix this, and probably in the end he won’t actually do anything.
    As for autopay, I resisted it for a long time, but it became necessary so I could travel and be away from the mailbox. It is super nice that all the bills are automatic, most go to a credit card and it is paid by the bank. You do get an email warning you of the upcoming payment, so there is time to intervene. I was worried about Centerpoint, but the cost of gas per CCF actually went down a little for last month. I have no doubt they are planning a bad surprise for us down the road.