Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

As Regulators Talk Renewables, Groups File Petition with PUC

Photo by Mose Buchele.

Environmental groups filed a petition with the Public Utility Commission of Texas to ramp up solar and geothermal power production in the state.

While state officials and representatives from the energy industry met at a conference to talk about the future of Texas renewables, environmental groups filed a petition charging the state’s Public Utility Commission with dragging its feet on solar and geothermal energy.

At the heart of the petition is a question that’s come up before: whether the PUC is mandated by the state legislature to reach renewable energy “targets.” Environmental groups say it is, and by not complying the PUC is depriving Texas of cleaner power. Sierra Club lawyer Casey Roberts says in 2007 lawmakers amended the Renewable Portfolio Standard, so that private and public electric utilities would comply with the renewable goals.

“That’s a clear indication that the legislature believes that that’s something to comply with,” said Casey in a conference call with reporters.

The PUC has not seen it that way. At the conference today, former PUC Commissioner and current Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman fielded a question about the rule. He said the last time it came up before the PUC “we didn’t feel like it was a mandate we felt like it was guidance.”

That’s a position shared by current PUC chair Donna Nelson.

Last legislative session, lawmakers never got around to clarifying whether, in fact, the goals are “mandates” or “guidance.”

Terry Hadley, spokeperson for the PUC says, now that a petition has been filed the PUC has sixty days to respond.

“The commission either shall deny the petition in writing stating its reasons for the denial or shall initiate rulemaking proceedings,” Hadley told StateImpact Texas. 

That means that unless the PUC has a major change of heart since the last time it came up, the whole question could be put to lawmakers again next year. And at today’s convention, that’s something that PUC Commissioner Rolando Pablos said he looks forward to next legislative session.


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