Updated at 7:13 p.m.: to include Texas Association of Business chief executive Glenn Hamer’s reaction.
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday named to the embattled Public Utility Commission of Texas a construction industry lobbyist with strong ties to the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Will McAdams, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas, will take one of the three vacancies on the three-member PUC.
In the wake of February’s prolonged and devastating arctic blast, the regulatory agency for electricity and telecommunications is struggling to defend its oversight of a nonprofit board that runs the state’s competitive electric marketplace.
The storm left more than 4 million Texans shivering and in the dark and caused at least 111 deaths, eight of them in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
In a written statement, Abbott said that McAdams, who used to advise former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on regulatory issues, “is committed to charting a new course for the commission and restoring trust with Texans.”
Abbott offered no specifics. McAdams would bring to the PUC “a fresh perspective and outstanding leadership,” the Republican governor said.
All three Abbott appointees who sat on the PUC before the disaster, which has tarnished Texas’ once-lustrous reputation as a place to relocate businesses, have resigned. Initially, Abbott focused blame solely on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid manager for most of the state, and not on the PUC, to which ERCOT answers.
Key lawmakers such as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, though, strongly criticized the PUC’s performance as well.
And outgoing PUC Chairman Arthur D’Andrea’s remarks last month on a call with investors — which some castigated as showing coziness with electric generators and eagerness to protect huge profits that some Wall Street firms made during the storm — appear to have forced Abbott to name three new commissioners soon.
D’Andrea said on the call that the Abbott administration planned to leave him as the PUC’s sole decision maker until after the current legislative session ends May 31. That would have denied Patrick and the Senate, who have been fighting with Abbott and the House over $16 billion in alleged overcharges that accrued near the end of the Feb. 15-19 outages, an opportunity to vet Abbott’s picks.
McAdams won’t be chairman. Abbott still hasn’t named a successor to D’Andrea, who resigned at the governor’s request after Texas Monthly revealed audio of his controversial comments in a March 9 call with Bank of America Securities. D’Andrea is serving until Abbott nominates his replacement, according to Abbott spokesmen.
While consumer advocates greeted McAdams’ appointment with caution, his old boss Bonnen was ecstatic.
“This is great for Texas!” Bonnen tweeted. “Congratulations, Will. I witnessed firsthand your dedication, expertise, and work ethic. You have the guts and grit to take on this challenge.”
This is great for Texas! Congratulations, Will. I witnessed firsthand your dedication, expertise, and work ethic. You have the guts and grit to take on this challenge. Proud of you. #txlege pic.twitter.com/DgYpDcdZzw
— Dennis Bonnen (@RepDennisBonnen) April 1, 2021
Earlier, McAdams worked for three Republican senators, including Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills.
Abbott said McAdams’ prior work would “make him the ideal leader to carry out the PUC’s mission to protect customers, foster competition and promote high quality infrastructure across Texas. … I am confident that he will lead the agency with integrity and transparency and I urge the Senate to confirm Will’s appointment.”
If confirmed by the Senate, McAdams, a Texas A&M University graduate who served in the Army and rose to the rank of captain, would sit on the PUC until Sept. 1, 2025.
According to his lobbyist disclosures to the Texas Ethics Commission, McAdams was to make between $93,150 and $186,299.99 this year as lobbyist for Associated Builders and Contractors. It’s unclear if that was to be his total salary as the trade group’s president. ABC’s members include contractors, engineers and electrical, drilling and demolition firms in the construction industry.
At the PUC, McAdams would make $189,500 a year, unless lawmakers boost commissioners’ pay — which seems unlikely.
He spent $783.14 on freebies for lawmakers and other legislative branch employees just last month, up from about $205 in January and $350 in February, the expenditure reports show.
The leader of the state’s largest business group, Glenn Hamer of the Texas Association of Business, applauded the nomination and urged swift Senate confirmation.
“Will McAdams brings a wealth of public service experience to the PUC and is a phenomenal choice for commissioner,” Hamer said in a written statement.
Two consumer advocates said McAdams would have his work cut out for him, with the PUC, in their view, in sorry shape.
“PUC commissioners have a big job ahead,” said Tim Morstad, associate state director for advocacy with AARP Texas. “We will be paying to clean up the mess of our failed utility system for a long time. It’s time to reassert the public in Public Utility Commission. Remember, the consumer should be at the very top of the job description.”
Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, said the regulatory agency is “extremely underfunded,” receiving from lawmakers a budget of $17.4 million a year in the current cycle.
“By contrast, Utah’s Public Service Commission gets $26 million a year with a population 90% smaller,” he said.
Metzger called Texas’ PUC “a shipwreck right now.”
He noted that Abbott’s previous picks DeAnn Walker, Shelly Botkin and D’Andrea “disbanded the Oversight & Enforcement Division, refused to ask the Legislature for the funding they need, and oversaw the atrophy of Texas’ energy-efficiency programs.”
McAdams’ “experience suggests he understands the electric industry,” Metzger said. “The question is, will he stand up to the industry and vigorously work to protect consumers and the environment?”
Investigative reporter Lauren McGaughy contributed to this report.