The Lone Star Current Interview
Arthur D’Andrea, Commissioner
Public Utility Commission
Governor Greg Abbott appointed Arthur D’Andrea to serve as a Commissioner for the Public Utility Commission of Texas on November 14, 2017, for a term set to expire on September 1, 2023. Before his appointment, Commissioner D’Andrea served as Assistant General Counsel to Governor Abbott. His career has been primarily focused on the law, including his role as Assistant Solicitor General in the Texas Attorney General’s office, where he served as lead appellate counsel in matters including constitutional challenges to state statutes, public-utilities regulation, antitrust, tax disputes, insurance regulation, regulatory takings, and petitions for writ of habeas corpus.
There he argued thirteen cases in the Second and Fifth Circuits, the Texas Supreme Court, and in the intermediate state courts of appeals. Prior to joining the Attorney General’s team, Commissioner D’Andrea worked in the Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation Practice Group for a private law firm where he represented clients before the United States Supreme Court and in federal and state courts of appeals nationwide in matters including white-collar criminal prosecutions, international-trade disputes, patent infringement, trademark disputes, bankruptcy, international arbitration, and securities litigation. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas, Commissioner D’Andrea worked as a Management Consultant for Price Waterhouse Coopers before earning a Juris Doctor from the University Of Texas School Of Law. He and his wife, Erin, are raising their children in Austin, Texas.
The Lone Star Current recently had the opportunity to interview Arthur D’Andrea, who graciously responded to our questions. We appreciate his willingness to take the time to share his unique perspective with our readers.
Lone Star Current: What do you believe are the most important aspects of your position as Commissioner of the PUC?
D’Andrea: My job is ensuring that utilities provide value to ratepayers. Ratepayers want reliable service at low rates and with fair conditions, and utilities need an incentive to invest their capital in the State’s critical infrastructure to keep the water, electricity and telecommunications services running twenty-four hours a day. Itâ€™s also important to keep an eye out for cross subsidies, making sure that everyone pays their share. Fortunately, nearly everyone who appears before the Commission understands and shares these goals.
LSC: What do you view as the biggest challenges facing the PUC over the next few years?
D’Andrea: The State’s small water utilities are in particular need of attention from our agency. There are hundreds of tiny water utilities serving Texans, and many of these are mom-and-pop operations, without the resources to hire lawyers, accountants, and other experts. To complicate matters, many of these systems were installed by developers decades ago, and now the infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life. The Commission has been busy reaching out to help these small utilities navigate state regulations so they may focus on the business of supplying clean and reliable water service. But in some cases, we need to come up with alternative solutions to keep clean water flowing in the communities these systems serve.
LSC: What issues have been the most interesting that you have dealt with during your time at the PUC?
D’Andrea: Some of the most interesting issues we face at the Commission involve regulatory interventions in the ERCOT market. I am a huge fan of Texas’s restructured electric market, where investors bear the risks and consumers share the benefits, but there remain some issues to be worked out. One of these is how to price reliability. Consumers pay extra in utility bills for power plants that remain idle for most of the year, so consumers can have electricity on peak demand days. That “extra” is essentially an amount set by the Commission through administrative pricing. This means that I have to predict how much extra the public wants to pay for reliability and how much more reliability they want. For example, how much would a typical consumer be willing to pay to guarantee no more than 15 minutes of outages every ten years? Ten percent more? Twenty percent more? And does the additional reliability that those extra power plants provide really impact the customer’s life when squirrels and birds cause scores of minutes of outages every year? We have to answer these questions on behalf of consumers because there is no market mechanism for them to express a preference for reliability.
LSC: What facet of your job as Commissioner do you most enjoy?
D’Andrea: I enjoy the wide variety of people that come through my office and the wide variety of subject matters they want to discuss. This job has demanded that I learn about law, accounting, engineering, human resources, and many other subjects besides. And the industry is full of interesting and brilliant characters: I’ve learned energy markets from a theater producer, and I’ve learned legislative procedure from a chicken farmer. Every day brings someone and something new.
LSC: Tell us something most people would be surprised to know about you.
D’Andrea: I was a bad student in high school and my first year of college. Eventually I grew up, but in the meantime I had lots of fun.
LSC: What is the last great book you read, and why did you like it?
D’Andrea: I recently read a novel that is a couple decades old called Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen. It was published my sophomore year of high school, so naturally (see above), I’d never heard of it. I am a fan of Graham Greene (despite his relentless anti-Americanism) and an even bigger fan of T.S. Elliot (despite his toxic anti-Semitism) but Hansen’s novel is, for me, in the running for the best work of Catholic literature of the 20th Century. It poetically captures the wonder and sometimes strangeness of faith, ritual, and the religious experience. I highly recommend it to readers of any faith or no faith at all.
LSC: If you weren’t serving in your current position, and it was possible to pursue any trade or profession, what would it be, and why?
D’Andrea: I would teach high school History and Chemistry and coach whatever team would have me.