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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Sunset report suggests PUC needs more oversight authority
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 • Posted April 27, 2010

AUSTIN — An April 23 Sunset Advisory Commission report recommends increasing the Public Utility Commission’s authority to oversee the electric industry in Texas.

The report says ERCOT, the powerful Electric Reliability Council of Texas, needs a board of directors with fewer members tied to the electric industry.

“Clearly there are a number of issues that ERCOT must address,” said PUC Commissioner Donna Nelson. “I believe the Sunset recommendations draw attention to many of those issues and I encourage the ERCOT board to make the necessary changes to increase the level of confidence Texans have in their electric grid operator.”

ERCOT, founded in 1970, manages the flow of electric power to 22 million Texas customers, representing 85 percent of the state’s electric load and 75 percent of the Texas land area. ERCOT manages financial settlement for the competitive wholesale bulk-power market and administers customer switching for 6.5 million Texans in competitive choice areas.

The Sunset process will continue this year with a public hearing and Legislative review in preparation for the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature, which begins in January 2011.

Mansion addition plans approved

The State Preservation Board announced plans for an addition to be built on the west side of the Governor’s Mansion.

The 1,000 square foot addition would include a stairway, more space in the first-floor kitchen and a new second-floor bedroom.

The 153-year-old building has been undergoing restoration since June 2008, when an arson fire destroyed much of it.

The bill for the restoration will be paid with millions in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds in addition to funds raised privately.

UT to restructure TeleCampus

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced changes in the operation of the system’s online and distance learning functions.

UT TeleCampus will move into a new System Administration office, allowing broader access to online courses, which Cigarroa said should bolster graduation rates.

And, the office will serve as a clearinghouse for innovations where start-up programs will be implemented and employees will assist with distance education marketing and recruitment efforts.

Program to help with admissions

A free Online College Preparation Assistance Pilot Program soon will help high school students tackle the college selection and application process.

The Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board are launching the $1.5 million pilot program and expect 20,000 to 30,000 high school students from across Texas to participate.

School districts and their selected high schools will be notified as to when they may participate. The program tailors each student’s information to help them stay on track to graduate and proceed toward career goals.

Agency acts to ensure disclosure

The Texas Ethics Commission recently approved new rules requiring public disclosure of direct campaign expenditures by corporations and unions to candidates for public office.

The rule comes in the wake of the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court case, which took the lid off donations to candidates.

Extending the disclosure requirement “would favor the public interest by providing information to the public regarding efforts to influence elections through spending,” according to the draft language adopted by the Commission.

Every day is Earth Day at TxDOT

On April 20, two days in advance of Earth Day, a Texas Department of Transportation news release said every day is Earth Day for the agency.

The main reason is that TxDOT is one of the state’s leading consumers of recycled goods, such as roofing scraps, old tires, worn asphalt and other materials that Texans normally pitch into landfills. For example, in 2009, TxDOT used for than 2.8 million tons of reclaimed asphalt and about 780,000 tires worth of scrap rubber.

The agency pointed to its fleet of more than 3,300 alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles as an example of its efforts to improve air quality and the fact that it offers an annual clean air incentive program for department staff. The program encourages the use of public transit, carpooling and brown-bagging a lunch to further reduce emissions.

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