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September 25, 2014      7:04 PM

Texas Energy Report: Smitherman chafes at comptroller’s CREZ line criticisms

Ex-PUC chair calls Combs’ new energy report a ‘disservice’

Barry Smitherman, a longtime Texas energy regulator, is a tad ticked off over a report issued this week by Comptroller Susan Combs.

It was the second time in four years that Combs had picked on the state’s investment in Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, he said.Known as CREZ, for short, the ambitious, nine-year project first involved construction of three high voltage transmission lines to carry trapped wind power generation from remote West Texas to high-demand electricity consumers in the state’s populous eastern side.

But to Smitherman, now an elected Texas Railroad Commissioner over oil and gas production and formerly chair of the Texas Public Utility Commission, the CREZ project was so much more than that. It was not, as Combs’ report asserts, an overly expensive and vastly underutilized state subsidy to the wind power industry, he insists.

I think that it does a disservice because it doesn’t talk about the advantages. It only talks about the cost. It conflates the federal tax credit for wind with the CREZ lines. It’s important for people to understand that the CREZ lines are just lines. They are long life assets,” he said.

“This latest report treats CREZ lines as if they are some alternative species of transmission. They’re not. They’re transmission lines. They are just like all the other transmission lines that we have built in ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas),” he said.

“They are paid for in the same way,” Smitherman added. “To somehow suggest that these are different, that they’re just for wind, is really misleading.”

Smitherman, in an interview with Texas Energy Report, stressed that he is the only currently serving energy regulator with an institutional memory about why the PUC built the CREZ lines, the complexity in doing so and the benefits (including unexpected ones) the lines brought to the state’s electric power grid.

The complete story from Polly Ross Hughes can be found in Texas Energy Report.

By Polly Ross Hughes