The Public Utility Commission (PUC) reportedly does not have the resources to effectively protect against the failure of Texas’ electrical grid.
The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission (TSAC) said Wednesday that the PUC needs more funds and staff to ensure the grid does not fail again as it did in 2021.
“Chief among PUC’s needs is additional resources, specifically for the agency to independently analyze electric industry data and support its regulation of water and wastewater utilities,” Emily Johnson, Sunset project manager, told commissioners at a meeting in December.
Johnson said that TSAC staff were “surprised to see PUC only has about 200 staff to not only regulate three industries but implement significant changes to improve the grid while also navigating its new governance structure and relationship with ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas).”
According to a TSAC report published in November, the PUC faced “considerable challenges associated with having fewer than 200 employees … including a lack of needed expertise, cumbersome regulatory processes that can drive up costs to consumers, and a general inability to be more strategic and proactive, particularly in communications and data management.”
PUC Chair Peter Lake told TSAC commissioners in December that staff were overworked from long days and working on weekends.
He said employees were working at an unsustainable pace and have missed birthday celebrations and vacations to meet requirements made by legislative mandates.
After the electrical grid nearly collapsed in February 2021, state legislators gave the PUC significantly more work and responsibility.
“I very much appreciate the comments about the staggering amount of increased responsibilities that have been assigned to this agency, very appropriately, in the aftermath of that storm,” Lake said.
“But the lack of resources, as y’all have identified, and the Sunset Commission identified, has made implementing all of the tasks y’all gave us very, very difficult.”
Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the PUC and grid operators must better prepare for extreme weather, and the commission’s ability to monitor the supply of natural gas must be improved.
“They made some important progress, but not enough,” he said in an interview with Fox 4 News on Wednesday.
Even according to the TSAC, funding alone will not fix the PUC’s operations.
“To restore trust, PUC needs to further improve its public communication efforts,” stated the report, advising the state to develop a regularly updated communication plan for the PUC and recommending that the PUC itself provide more accessible information to the public.
The report also found that “PUC’s poor data practices and lack of policies and procedures limit its ability to best allocate resources and serve the regulated community,” directing the PUC to create comprehensive plans and policies to improve its data collection and analysis.
The PUC was also advised to create a manual for precedents that prioritizes rules regarding water and wastewater regulations.
Additionally, the TSAC recommended that legislators require the PUC to allow public testimony at its meetings on non-agenda items, which is not currently permitted.