Saying she wants to get the details right for ratepayers, the new Public Utility Commission chair is raising last-minute objections to a multi-million deal between the Oncor and Sharyland utilities.
But DeeAnn Walker — who was appointed PUC chair on Sept. 20 and who presided over her first meeting on Thursday — stressed it’s not her intention to derail or delay the agreement. “I think this transaction is in the best interest of ratepayers, and I’m not trying to do anything that would be a deal killer,” the new PUC chair told her fellow commissioners on Thursday.
The deal, should it receive final approval, will result in significant rate decrease for Sharyland’s current customers but also a small rate increase for Oncor’s. Under the deal Sharyland will receive $380 million in transmission lines and $20 million from Oncor, while Oncor would receive all of Sharyland’s customers.
Oncor is the state’s largest transmission and distribution utility, serving about 3.4 million customers around Dallas and Fort Worth. The much smaller Sharyland serves 54,000 customers around central and west Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. The deal between the two utilities had been negotiated over several months and PUC watchers expected it to receive final approval this week.
Many of Walker’s objections were related to technical issues, while others related to cost-sharing issues such as the allocation of energy efficiency-related refunds between Sharyland and Oncor customers. A memo she filed on Wednesday also included proposed language requiring Sharyland to obtain a special PUC certificate known as a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity.
Oncor and Sharyland officials said there’s still time to address Walker’s concerns and close the deal by late November, as previously contemplated. But to stick to that timeline the PUC likely must take a final vote during its October meeting.
Walker and her other utility commissioners said that’s the plan. “It is not my intention to cause the transaction to fail, but it is my hope that the parties can make accommodations in the agreement to address my issues or explain why they cannot make such accommodations,” Walker wrote in her Sept. 27 memo.
Sharyland, under the terms of the deal, will continue operating large transmission lines, but no longer own the smaller distribution lines that connect directly to customers. The agreement could shave $50 or $60 per month from Sharyland customer rates, which currently are among the state’s highest.
The deal also is part of a broader rate case for Oncor, but is unrelated to separate discussions regarding a potential sale of the Dallas utility to California-based Sempra. Because both Sharyland and Oncor are regulated, any change-of-ownership requires regulatory approval.