AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Leaders of the Public Utility Commission faced intense questioning Monday from skeptical and occasionally incredulous lawmakers over a decision by state energy regulators to back a plan that could restructure the Texas electricity market.
As tens of thousands of homes and businesses remained without power following a bruising weekend of nasty weather in Texas, utility commission chairwoman Donna Nelson defended to a Senate committee a disputed October vote as a move to safeguard electric reliability and avert future blackouts due to inadequate supply.
By a 2-1 vote, the three-member PUC board last month signaled support of installing mandated levels of electric capacity. The move is a possible step toward so-called "capacity payments" in which generators are paid for extra capacity and not just for electricity sold.
Supporters say that would help guard against outages, such as during sweltering Texas summers when demand peaks as homeowners crank their air conditioners. More money could also encourage generators to build more plants and meet the demands of a rapidly growing Texas population.
But Republican Sen. Troy Fraser, who once angrily cut off Nelson and accused the commission of being "dysfunctional," blasted commissioners' concerns as baseless and accused the board of stepping outside its authority.