TEXAS, USA — A Staff Report from the Sunset Advisory Commission said the Public Utility Commission (PUC) is significantly understaffed. The PUC oversees ERCOT and is responsible for making policy changes to improve the state power grid following winter storm Uri. While many improvements have already been made, the agency is still working to change the state power market to incentivize companies to build more power plants for the future.
On Wednesday, after discussing the report last month, the Sunset Advisory Commission approved 6 groups of recommendations to send to the Texas Legislature. Two of those recommendations involved providing additional funding to the PUC.
The staff report previously stated, "Most importantly, the review found PUC is woefully under-resourced given its critical responsibilities and the work that still lies ahead. Sunset staff observed the considerable challenges associated with having fewer than 200 employees to oversee utility industries vital to the wellbeing of Texans."
Recommendation 1.1 in the report suggests an annual appropriation of "approximately $2.1 million." This includes "four new employees and $955,000 annually to establish a data analysis team within its Market Analysis Division, and approximately $1.1 million annually for engineering expertise and technical support it anticipates needing on a long-term basis".
Recommendation 3.1 would help improve the PUC’s water and wastewater staffing and would cost approximately $1.7 million.
At a December Sunset Advisory Commission, PUC Chairman Peter Lake was more candid about the agencies staffing issues.
"The lack of resources as the Sunset Commission has identified has made implementing all of the tasks y'all (Texas legislature) gave us very, very difficult. We have essentially the same amount of employees but have done 200 percent more rule makings in a very short amount of time, not to mention exponential increase in oversite of ERCOT bylaws and all the responsibility there," Lake said.
Lake said employees have needed to work overtime and work weekends in order to get everything done. He said this made it difficult to keep employees and now the PUC was even losing people.
"Our staff now can't sustain the pace. We are losing people quickly and we've got to be competitive in keeping people. I know they can't sustain this pace," Lake said.
PUC Executive Director Thomas Gleeson said the agency currently had between 190 to 200 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees but had less than their maximum cap because they had to pay people more to keep them. He said they needed an additional 50 to 60 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees.
The Sunset Advisory Commission will send their recommendations, which include the need for additional funding, to the Texas Legislature's House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee.