State district judge sides with Texas electricity consumers

Written on: January 14, 2010

The Texas Public Utility Commission failed to explicitly consider costs to electric consumers when it awarded billions of dollars in transmission construction projects last year, a state district judge has determined.

The finding, part of a case that could impact how much Texans end up paying as a result of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone process, was included in a recent letter from state District judge Stephen Yelenosky to lawyers for the City of Garland and the Texas Attorney General’s office.

Garland has claimed in a lawsuit that the PUC failed to consider the potential benefits to electric consumers when it rejected the city’s utility proposal to build some of the CREZ lines. Judge Yelenosky, in a Dec. 21 letter, signaled that he tends to agree. The judge (that”s a picture of him at the left) is expected to issue an order in the case on Jan. 15.

Because it is municipally owned, the Garland utility does not pay various taxes common to commercial ventures and can borrow money at a lower cost. Garland has argued that such advantages would lead to lower costs for consumers had it been selected to participate in the transmission projects.

But in its decision to award the projects to Oncor, Sharyland and other transmission developers, the PUC appears not to have explicitly considered what’s most cost-effective for electric customers, Yelenosky stated in his letter.

Attorneys representing the PUC suggested that “customers” be read as the “people of Texas,” wrote the judge. But state law clearly requires the PUC to consider what’s most beneficial and cost-effective to “electric customers” and that “neither the PUC, nor this court, can ignore statutory language or choose to give it a definition it does not have,” he wrote.

Yelenosky also noted that the PUC overstepped its statutory authority in other ways. “The PUC relied upon factors that are not relevant to providing transmission capacity in a manner most beneficial and cost-effective to electric customers and based its decision on underlying findings that lack substantial evidence,” he stated.

The city of Garland, through its municipally-owned utility, already operates more than 130 miles of transmission lines, which serve not only their own customers but also residents in Dallas. Garland is one of 13 transmission operators certified to operate in ERCOT.

The PUC came under similar criticism that it was failing to look out for consumers in its CREZ deliberations when commissioners signaled to transmission developers last year that they should not seek economic stimulus assistance from the Obama Administration. Such assistance could have shaved tens of millions of dollars from the cost of CREZ construction, according to some estimates.

Current estimates put the CREZ price tag at about $4 per month for residential customers. The lines are expected to be up and running by 2013.

Menu