Courtesy Photo / Texas Public Utility Commission
Public Utility Commission Chairman Arthur D'Andrea was asked to resign after being captured on an audio recording reassuring investors in the companies he was hired to regulate.
Well, that was quick.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday night announced the resignation of Public Utility Commission Chairman Arthur D'Andrea. The move came hours after Texas Monthly posted a recording
of the regulator assuring investors he'd try to stop the reversal of wholesale power charges from February's winter storm.
The audio — reportedly of meeting closed to the public and media — appears to highlight a snug relationship between major players in the state's power-generating market and the man allegedly regulating them.
D'Andrea was the only remaining member of the three-seat board that oversees Texas utilities. The other two, including DeAnn Walker, D'Andrea's predecessor as chair, resigned in amid outage over the state's lack of preparation for the catastrophic storm that killed at least 57 Texans and left millions without power.
"Tonight, I asked for and accepted the resignation of PUC Commissioner Arthur D’Andrea," the Republican governor said in a brief statement. "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."
On the recording shared by Texas Monthly
, D'Andrea told out-of-state investors he'd wield "the weight of the commission" to block the reversal of billions in wholesale electricity charges racked up during the storm. Nullifying those high-priced transitions, undertaken as utilities struggled to keep the lights on, could reverse a financial windfall for traders and big power companies.
"I apologize for the uncertainty,” D’Andrea reassured the investors.
Texas lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have raised concerns about overbilling during the storm and questioned whether the PUC did enough to prepare for the havoc it wreaked. Last week, San Antonio's CPS Energy sued the nonprofit operator of Texas' power grid
, saying it had "illegally" and "excessively" overcharged the municipally owned utility for wholesale power.
The recording of D'Andrea surfaced after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick targeted the regulator during a Senate hearing late last week, an unusual move some read as a signal
the lieutenant might be preparing for a primary challenge to Abbott. After the Senate hearing, Patrick fired off a letter asking the governor to remove D'Andrea.
However, a spokesperson for the governor's office last told the Texas Tribune
that Abbott fully supported D'Andrea.
During the investor call, the PUC chairman said he thought his job was safe and that Abbott wouldn't appoint any new regulators during the Legislative session.
“I went from being on a very hot seat to having one of the safest jobs in Texas,” D’Andrea said.
Cue sad trombone.
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