by Erin Douglas, The Texas Tribune.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday named Lori Cobos, a government and utilities lawyer, to an interim seat on the Public Utility Commission, the agency that oversees the state’s power grid, as well as its water, wastewater and telecommunications utilities.
Cobos has spent the last two years heading the Office of Public Utility Counsel, the state agency charged with representing residential and small commercial consumers in utility proceedings.
As the OPUC’s chief executive, she is also an ex-officio board member of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator. Cobos fills a position previously held by Arthur D’Andrea, who resigned in March after Texas Monthly reported that he told out-of-state investors on a call he would work to throw “the weight of the commission” behind stopping calls to reverse billions of dollars in charges for wholesale electricity during the February winter storm.
Cobos’ term will only last until Sept. 1, at which point Abbott could re-appoint her or make a new nomination.
Cobos is the governor’s third nomination to the PUC after all of the previous commissioners resigned in the aftermath of February’s deadly power outages.
The nomination also comes the same week that ERCOT asked Texans to cut back their electricity use to avoid outages. The PUC oversees ERCOT.
On Monday, the grid operator asked residents to reduce their electricity usage during peak hours through at least Friday due to “tight” power grid conditions; a number of power plants were inexplicably offline at the same time as weather conditions resulted in low wind power generation. Due to high temperatures, the state is also experiencing record early June demand for electricity.
ERCOT officials said outages for residents are unlikely this week. On Tuesday, ERCOT issued a statement that the grid “remains strong during record demand,” and a spokesperson told the Tribune that the situation “looks like it will continue to improve.”
While Abbott criticized ERCOT in the aftermath of the February power crisis, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick criticized the PUC and called on Abbott to shake up the agency. During this year’s regular legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2154, which would alter the makeup of the commission, adding two seats for a total of five commissioners. Abbott has yet to sign the legislation.
Cobos has previously worked in several positions at the PUC, including as an adviser for two commissioners and assistant counsel to the executive director. She was formerly a private practice attorney specializing in Texas’ electric power industry.