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Photo: Texas Public Utility Commission
Arthur D'Andrea was the last member of the Texas Public Utility Commission to retire. Photo: Texas Public Utility Commission

Texas winter storm fallout: Last member of state utility commission resigns

The state’s power grid blackout left millions without power less than a month ago.

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The last remaining member of the Public Utility Commission of Texas has resigned following last month’s power grid collapse during the state’s winter storm crises. 

Arthur D’Andrea was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to the three-person commission in November 2017, and was named as chairman on March 3.

D’Andrea took over as chairman after DeAnn Walker resigned, following calls for her to leave the post after the winter storm left millions of residents without power. Commissioner Shelly Botkin resigned just days after Walker’s resignation. 

D’Andrea’s resignation letter gives no details on his reason for leaving. 

“I hereby resign effective immediately upon the appointment of my successor. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to serve the state of Texas,” it reads. 

In a statement on Tuesday, March 16, Gov. Abbott said that he will be naming a replacement chairperson that will be responsible for “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,” the governor added.

Before his resignation on Tuesday, it was reported by Texas Monthly that D’Andrea participated in a 48-minute call with Bank of America Securities, related to electricity pricing during the winter storm. 

In the call, which took place on Tuesday, March 9, he spoke with out-of-state investors who profited from the storm, and attempted to quell their concerns about repricing. 

“I wish I could tell you there’s just no way in heck it will ever get repriced. I just can’t, because … if enough legislators want something done, they can pass a bill and get it done,” remarked the chairman.

“Right now it’s just a contentious political issue, and I’m advising on it and the best I can do is put the weight of the commission in favor of not repricing for the reasons I said,” he said. 

On Feb. 15, as directed by the Commission, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas increased its electricity prices to the maximum limit of $9,000 per megawatt hour. This move reflected the scarcity of electricity and was intended to serve as an incentive for more electricity generation. 

According to a report from Potomac Economics, the commission’s independent market monitor, that $9,000 cap was in place for at least 32 hours after most outages ended, late in the day on Wednesday, Feb. 17. 

D’Andrea was a strong advocate against repricing, alleging that it could create unnecessary problems for both electricity providers and customers. 

He expressed these concerns at a recent PUC meeting, claiming that the results of going down this path are “unknowable.” 

“We’ve already set a path, we know who is hurt by that and we can focus on helping the people that were hurt instead of throwing everything up into the air again, creating another huge mess, and then a month from now we’ll have a different set of people who are hurt and we have to focus on helping them,” he said. 

After the state of Texas was consumed by a devastating winter storm, millions of Texans were left without electricity, scraping together what little resources they had to endure the sub-freezing temperatures. 

As a result of the storm and power outages, at least 57 people died, including Christian Pineda, an 11-year-old immigrant from Tela, Honduras. It was Pineda’s first time experiencing a snow day, and he played outside during the day on Monday, Feb. 22. 

The next morning, Pineda’s body was found huddled under a pile of blankets; a young life lost to hypothermia. 

His mother, Maria Pineda, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Jefferson County District Court, claiming that the utility giants “put profits over the welfare of people,” by ignoring previous recommendations to winterize its power grid. 

“Despite having knowledge of the dire weather forecast for at least a week in advance, and the knowledge that the system was not prepared for more than a decade, ERCOT and Entergy failed to take any preemptory action that could have averted the crisis and were wholly unprepared to deal with the crisis at hand,” the lawsuit states.

State Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said that his fellow Democrats have been “calling for accountability from the PUC since the very beginning of this disaster.”

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