Elect the PUC of Texas? Let’s talk about that one

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

A young Texas state legislator with whom I recently became acquainted has pitched a fascinating notion that needs some discussion. Heck, it might even need to become law.

Freshman state Rep. Bryan Slaton, a Royse City Republican, says we need to elect the Public Utility Commission of Texas, making its members “accountable” to the voters when they make mistakes.

Hmm. Do you think the PUC made a blunder or three as the state struggled against Mother Nature’s winter wrath in February?

To be sure, this proposal carries plenty of risk along with the reward that Slaton seems to think it also carries.

The PUC currently is appointed by the governor. It comprises three members. The chairwoman of the panel, DeAnn Walker, recently resigned under duress in the wake of the monster winter storm that shut down electricity for millions of Texans.

Slaton has this notion that the PUC should be elected, just like the 15-member Texas State Board of Education and the three member Texas Railroad Commission are elected. The SBOE sets curriculum requirements for our public schools, while the RRC — perhaps one of the more misnamed agencies anywhere — regulates oil and natural gas issues for the state.

An elected PUC might be a good idea, but I would offer this caveat: Its members should be non-partisan. We already elect the SBOE and the RRC on partisan ballots. Their decisions, sadly, are too often driven by party platforms and concerns about whether their decisions will anger those in their electoral “base.”

Would an elected PUC be subject to the same pressure as the Ed Board and the Railroad Commission if it is elected on party ballots? It’s something to ponder.

The PUC ‘s mission is to regulate the rates and transmission of utility power to the state. Somewhere in the mission statement, the PUC declares that its aim is to “protect customers, foster competition, and promote high quality infrastructure.” Is that a mission that requires its members to belong to one political party or the other? I think not.

Texans have not been well-served by their utility regulators. There needs to be some serious overhaul from top to bottom of the way they do their jobs. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has taken heavy fire for the role it played. The ERCOT board recently fired its CEO in the wake of the winter blast.

Do we need to put PUC policy making decisions in the hands of politicians who campaign for votes? Maybe … or maybe not.

Let’s have that discussion.