AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Texas utility leaders continue to face questions about whether the state’s power grid is prepared for winter weather, lawmakers are raising new concerns about resources and operations at the state agencies in charge of these utilities.

After the deadly winter storm in 2021 that left millions of Texans without power or water for days, the legislature passed a series of reforms for these agencies and the electric industry, in hopes of preventing another disaster. They also called on the Sunset Advisory Commission, which evaluates the performance and function of state agencies, to move up its review of these entities to make sure these changes were implemented.

Sunset staff have been reviewing the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), which regulates the electric market and water resources, along with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Office of Public Utility Counsel (OPUC).

Earlier this month, they released a report outlining six different issues: from concerns the PUC is “woefully under-resourced”, to potential improvements for the current decision-making processes among leadership and the need for better communication for the public.

  • Read the report here

In a hearing on Tuesday, Sunset staff walked lawmakers through the report and its recommendations for improvement. Emily Johnson, Review Director for Sunset, acknowledged that some of the recommendations might require additional time and resources from an agency with an already “small staff.”

“We were surprised to see PUC only has about only about 200 staff to not only regulate three industries,” she said, “but also to implement significant changes to improve the grid, while also navigating it’s new governance structure and relationship with ERCOT.”

She went on to compare this number to the more than 1,000 employees staffed by the Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and natural gas industry.

PUC Chairman Peter Lake pointed to the “staggering amount of increased responsibility” assigned to the agency following the winter storm.

“We have essentially the same amount of employees, but have done 200% more rule-makings,” he said. He went on, “We have employees working weekends, overtime, missed birthdays, missed vacations to make the progress we have made so far.”

Sunset staff said they support PUC’s plans to ask the legislature for funding to create a data analytics team and additional engineering expertise.

Without these additional resources, according to the Sunset report, the commission “cannot truly fulfill expectations” to ensure the electric grid will be reliable. The report also noted clear decision-making processes would be necessary, as well.

“PUC’s use of informal methods to instruct ERCOT means the agency does not always adhere to best practices for openness, inclusiveness, and transparency,” the report stated.

Senator Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, chairs the Sunset Advisory Commission and questioned PUC and ERCOT leaders about this issue in particular: “things like that, that do or do not require a memo, do or do not require a vote, do or do not require input from other commissioners.” 

Lake explained that a slew of resignations, the addition of new commissioners and organizational restructuring after the winter storm contributed to changes in processes at the commission.

“Since then, we have evolved,” he said, calling their processes “dramatically improved.”

Schwertner asked Lake whether he disagreed with this portion of the Sunset report, to which Lake responded, “we will always welcome clarification from the Legislature.”