Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hailed for Compassion, Marquez Seeks New ‘Chaos’

By Tom Kleckner

AUSTIN, Texas — The Public Utility Commission’s open meeting last week was the last for Commissioner Brandy Marty Marquez, who announced March 8 that she is resigning from the commission after five years of service.

PUCT Brandy Marquez Texas PUC

Marquez | © RTO Insider

PUC Chair DeAnn Walker, who has known Marquez for many years, opened the meeting with words of praise for her good friend. Walker cited her loyalty, wit, tenacity and compassion. And her tears.

“She joked about it, maybe having a tear here and there on some cases,” Walker said of Marquez. “Some people saw that as a weakness, but I saw that as one of her strengths. She was compassionate, but she always ruled on laws and facts.”

“They make fun of me for being a crier over here,” Marquez said during an interview earlier, in which she noted the differences between the political arena, where she spent 17 years, and the regulatory world. Marquez frequently referred to “here” and “there,” nodding over her shoulder to the Texas State Capitol visible through her office window.

“Over at the Capitol, I think I got choked up twice,” Marquez said. “I think I’ve grown a heart over here, which is probably difficult for people who are not in this industry to understand. But when you’re dealing with the kinds of things we deal with here, it’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”

The senior member of the commission, Marquez said she was resigning to return to the private sector. (See Marquez to Depart Texas PUC.) Two weeks later, she said she doesn’t “exactly know what’s next yet.”

Marquez said she’s “led a very blessed life” in that she chooses a path and “something will go horribly wrong.”

“Then I kind of throw it up in the air, and then something I never would have dreamed could happen to me will happen to me. This is kind of a reoccurring theme in my life.”

Such was the case in 2013, when Marquez was Gov. Rick Perry’s chief of staff as the state’s legislative session came to an end.

“I’m a believer that when you feel the whisper of, ‘It’s time to think about doing something else,’ you should honor it, because the whispers eventually become a shout and then a yell,” Marquez said. “I knew I needed to leave Gov. Perry’s office. I had worked for him for several years, but I had no idea what I wanted to do.”

Unexpectedly, Perry asked Marquez if she would serve on the PUC. She agreed.

“It was perfect,” she recalled of the switch. “It’s been wonderful.”

PUCT Brandy Marquez Texas PUC

Marquez | © RTO Insider

Marquez first had to acclimate herself to the regulatory pace. At the Capitol, she said, “You have five minutes to make a decision. Things are happening so quickly over there. This bill is up. Does it do this? What’s the answer?

“In the regulatory world … you take your time to get more information,” Marquez said. “If you’re unsure, it’s OK. There’ll be more time. Over there, you’re constantly thinking about the political angle. They don’t want you to be political here. They want you to just look at the problem and solve it.”

At the Capitol, the political crowd is always looking for a “seam,” Marquez said. If a lawmaker’s bill gets shot down, they look for someone else’s bill that might work. If that bill doesn’t work, they look for another.

“In the regulatory world, there are no seams. There are well-plotted streets and sidewalks, and maybe if you want to get crazy, you can get off the street and get on the sidewalk. You have to have that very prescribed predictability, because you can’t ask people to invest billions and not know the rules of the game.”

A San Antonio native, Marquez earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin and her law degree from St. Mary’s University in her hometown. She calls herself a “child of chaos” who grew up in the Capitol, working first as an intern while also going through law school. Marquez served in numerous leadership positions on Perry’s staff, including as his budget director, his policy director during his successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign and as his chief of staff during Texas’ 83rd legislative session.

Marquez joined the PUC during the summer of 2013, reuniting with fellow Perry administration veterans Donna Nelson and Ken Anderson. It was a turbulent time, Marquez said, with a severe drought driving concerns over ERCOT’s resource adequacy.

Within a year, Energy Future Holdings, a group of private equity firms that acquired Texas energy firm TXU in a 2007 leveraged buyout, declared bankruptcy. The PUC would be consumed with protecting the state’s ratepayers from EFH’s financial travails during attempts by several companies to acquire its Oncor utility. California’s Sempra Energy finally earned the golden ring earlier this year. (See Texas PUC OKs Sempra-Oncor Deal, LP&L Transfer.)

A similar concern for ratepayers drove the PUC to push Oncor and Sharyland Utilities to swap customers and assets, relieving Sharyland’s ratepayers of some of the highest rates in the state. (See Texas PUC OKs Settlement in Oncor-Sharyland Asset Swap.)

Marquez singles out both Oncor proceedings as the proudest accomplishments during her tenure at the commission.

“[Sharyland’s] ratepayers were in a lot of pain out there. It became very important for me to find some kind of resolution, so people weren’t having to live in fear of their utility bill,” she said.

PUCT Brandy Marquez Texas PUC

Marquez | © RTO Insider

Marquez said she gained a deep appreciation for utility workers after visiting South Texas to see the restoration efforts following Harvey’s devastating blow to the Texas Gulf Coast last August.

“It’s an industry where when the rain is pouring down, [the workers] go out. In Houston, they wade in water up to their waist, and in South Texas, they’re in mud up to their knees. It’s very inspiring what these folks do to ensure we have the quality of life we have in this country.”

Marquez also had praise for the “problem-solvers” at the PUC — the staff, which she said provides a soft landing spot as the governor’s appointees cycle through. “They tell you, ‘Here’s what’s going on here. Don’t be afraid, we’ve got you,’” Marquez said. “We have a very good continuity plan, because we have a very good staff here.”

During last week’s open meeting, Walker noted that for the first time since 2008, official portraits of the current commissioners hang underneath the PUC’s logo on the meeting room’s wall. (Nelson did not allow her picture to be hung until just before she left last May).

“We’ll have three pictures up for one week. It’s your fault that we’re going back to two,” Walker said, teasingly.

Asked if she has any regrets about her decision, Marquez told RTO Insider that she leaves the PUC in good hands with Walker and Arthur D’Andrea, who replaced Nelson and Anderson, respectively, last fall.

“It’s a natural conclusion of a lot of things. It was the new energy of people who I could not think more highly of,” she said. “I just feel like it’s in a good spot, it’s an OK time for me to spring forward and see what kind of chaos I can get into.”