AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two years after the winter storm and cascading power failure that left millions of Texans in the dark and cold, a group of lawmakers has recommended the state increase funding for and improve oversight of the electric and water utility industries.
In a report published on Tuesday, the anniversary of this historic storm, lawmakers on the Sunset Advisory Commission asked Texas’ top leaders to consider increasing funding for the Public Utility Commission, which regulates the state’s utility systems.
With the report, the lawmakers on Sunset included a letter addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan and other members of the 88th Legislature. The letter explained they were offering 235 recommendations for changes across more than 20 state agencies, meant to “streamline state government while enhancing services to our citizens.”
This group of lawmakers, along with the Sunset Commission’s staff, routinely review the effectiveness and performance of state agencies. This latest report details each specific recommendation from the agencies under review this cycle.
According to a previous report in November, Sunset staff wrote the electric utility regulator could not “truly fulfill expectations for ensuring a reliable electric grid” without more resources, clear decision-making processes, and improved communication efforts. The report detailed dozens of specific recommendations for lawmakers to consider approving this session.
Specifically, it suggested the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees consider funding a data analytics team and additional engineering expertise for the PUC. The report also suggested these same legislative committees increase PUC’s appropriation “to ensure it can recover its costs to regulate water and wastewater utilities efficiently.”
In a hearing in January, Sunset lawmakers approved the recommendations and agreed to send them to the rest of the legislature for consideration this session.
“Generally, the recommendations eliminate unnecessary regulations, improve accountability, align agencies’ procedures with best practices, and strengthen effective delivery of services to Texans,” read the letter released Tuesday.
It went on to note that the Sunset commission does not usually make recommendations about appropriations, calling the items “atypical.”
The report also contained recommendations about public communications strategies at the PUC, such as requiring it to keep a regularly-updated strategic communications plan, allow public testimony at commission meetings on agenda items, better coordinate with ERCOT on communications, and offer “up-to-date, easily accessible information as part of its current website redesign efforts.”
Other recommendations included some “organizational best practices,” including the addition of a PUC commissioner as a nonvoting member of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Board of Directors.
The legislature still needs to approve these recommendations.