Last member of PUC resigns after tape reveals he worked to protect energy profits

Keaton Fox Image
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Rise and fall of Texas bill to force ERCOT from overcharging
What led the Texas Senate to push through a bill to stop ERCOT from overcharging customers? The video explains.

The last Texas regulator on the Public Utility Commission at the time of the deadly February blackouts has resigned, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday night.

In a statement, Abbott said he had asked for and accepted the resignation of Arthur D'Andrea, the last remaining member of the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

SEE ALSO: Texas' last Public Utility Commission member resigns at Gov. Greg Abbott's request

The resignation came just hours after a tape of D'Andrea was published by Texas Monthly where D'Andrea could be heard telling bankers he was working to protect profits after ERCOT overcharged companies for power in the worst of February's winter storm.

SEE ALSO: ERCOT overcharged $3B, not $16B like originally stated, report finds

D'Andrea told bankers he was "tipping the scale as hard as" he could so the money wouldn't be refunded and that he was convinced that lawmakers would run out the clock on the timing of the refunds, which appears to be happening, given the Senate bill to fix the problem looks unlikely to ever see the House floor before the deadline for ERCOT to reprice.

SEE ALSO: ERCOT bill uncertain as PUC chair is caught in call promising profits: Report

On Wednesday, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion that the PUC had the authority on its own to fix the error after D'Andrea claimed he wasn't legally allowed to. Late Wednesday, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick added saying the House needed to act as "the clock is ticking."

D'Andrea, like DeAnn Walker and Sherry Botkin, had been Abbott appointees to the three-member PUC. Walker, the PUC chairwoman, resigned March 1; Botkin resigned March 8.

Abbott, a Republican, had blamed the power failures on the state's grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, commonly known as ERCOT. But the three-member commission appointed by Abbott has oversight authority over ERCOT.

"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," Abbott said in his statement.

The commission regulates the Texas power grid and is under intensifying scrutiny following one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history. More than 4 million customers lost electricity in sub-freezing temperatures, and the winter storm and resulting outages are blamed for more than 50 deaths.

Bill Magness, chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, was fired from his job that boasts a pay of more than $800,000, also on March 1. ERCOT manages the electric grid that energizes most of Texas. Also, at least six ERCOT board members have resigned in the wake of the power failures.

ERCOT officials have said the entire grid - which is uniquely isolated from the rest of the U.S. - was on the brink of collapse in the early hours of Feb. 15 as power plants froze in the cold and record demand for electricity to heat homes overwhelmed the system.

SEE ALSO: Texplainer: Why does Texas have its own power grid?

The power did not flip back on for days for millions of residents, and the prolonged outages quickly escalated to a crisis of tragic proportions, as people trying to keep warm died of carbon monoxide poisoning and others froze to death.

"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," Abbott said in his Tuesday statement.

The video above is from a previous story.

Keaton Fox is ABC13's Sr. Manager, Data Strategy.