AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Skepticism over major possible changes to the Texas electricity market spilled into the governor's race Thursday when Democrat Wendy Davis joined bipartisan scolding of state energy regulators who haven't shown signs of backing down.
Davis said the Public Utility Commission overstepped its authority by recently signaling support of Texas shifting to what's called a capacity market. Critics say the change could cost ratepayers $4 billion without any assurance that the power will stay on during sweltering summer or frigid winters.
PUC Chairwoman Donna Nelson has disputed those cost estimates. She defends the idea as a sensible way to ensure that rapidly growing Texas will continue having enough power to serve millions of additional residents.
Davis joins the opposition more than a week after Republicans and Democrats pointedly questioned Nelson in what was a sometimes tense hearing at the Capitol.
"This is for the Legislature to decide. Not them," Davis said in a phone interview.
Power companies currently only make money when electricity is sold. Capacity payments give additional money for keeping mandated reserve power, which supporters say would guard against blackouts and promote construction of new plants.
Lawmakers say it would lead to higher electric bills without any guarantee the lights will stay on.
By a 2-1 vote in October, the three-member PUC board last month signaled support of installing mandated levels of electric capacity. The vote didn't implement any actual changes to the market, and the agency is scheduled to take up the matter again in January.
PUC spokesman Terry Hadley said Thursday the commission is in the process of answering lawmakers' questions and preparing for next month's meeting.