Oncor, the state’s largest transmission and distribution utility, will soon have new owners.
Amid applause and thank yous to gathered staff, the Texas Public Utility Commission on Thursday signed off on a multi-billion-dollar offer by California-based Sempra to acquire the Dallas-based utility. The unanimous PUC vote marked the end of a years-long process and means that Sempra is now free to close the transaction. A federal bankruptcy court in Delaware signed off on the deal late last month and all relevant stakeholders are on board.
“This commission and the intervenors spoke at least twice, three times … on what their expectations were to get this done — and Sempra listened,” said PUC chair DeAnn Walker. “They (the company) came forward and I appreciate that, and we have stuck to what we said we were asking for.”
Oncor, which serves millions of households in north, central and west Texas, went for sale four years ago after the financial collapse of its erstwhile parent company, Energy Future Holdings. Public advocates deemed two previous offers — one by a consortium that included Dallas Billionaire Ray L. Hunt and another from Florida-based conglomerate NextEra — as raw deals for ratepayers. Another offer by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire-Hathaway received better reviews, but never officially made it to the PUC.
The Steering Committee of Cities Served by Oncor — one of TCAP’s sister organizations — has advocated for consumers throughout the entire sales process. Responding directly to concerns expressed by the city coalition and other interested parties, Sempra agreed to dozens of commitments intended to financially protect the utility’s customers.
“We’re very pleased with this outcome,” said Geoffrey Gay, general counsel for both the Steering Committee and TCAP. “The deal approved today by the Public Utility Commission includes a number of important protections both for the Oncor utility and its customers. The Commissioners stuck to their guns and did the right thing with this vote today.”
Because Oncor is a regulated monopoly, any change of ownership required advance approval from the PUC. But unlike the federal bankruptcy court, the Texas agency isn’t charged with looking out for investors but rather looking out for the public. Under Texas law, the PUC had until April 4th to accept, amend or reject Sempra’s proposal.
You can read the Commission’s final order here.
Oncor serves about 3.4 million Texas homes and businesses. Sempra serves 7.3 million homes and businesses through San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas. It also owns utility companies in Chile and Peru and is developing a natural gas export facility in Port Arthur, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Despite the bankruptcy of its parent, Oncor has remained solidly profitable.
Also, during the Thursday PUC meeting, Commissioner Brandy Marty Marquez announced that she is resigning her post, effective April 2. Ms. Marquez has served as one of the agency’s three commissioners since 2013 and was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry. In 2015, Governor Greg Abbott reappointed Marquez, and she was confirmed unanimously that year by the Texas Senate.