By Tom Kleckner
Texas Public Utility Commission Chair Donna Nelson surprised staff and open-meeting attendees Thursday by announcing she would be stepping down in May.
Nelson was appointed to the PUC by Gov. Rick Perry in August 2008. She was named chairman in July 2011 and was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to another six-year term in September 2015 that was to expire in September 2021.
“I think you have left a distinguished and wonderful mark on this state with your service,” Commissioner Brandy Marty Marquez told Nelson after her announcement. “There’s a whole lot of gratitude owed to you, by everybody here.”
“I’m not dead yet,” Nelson responded, before getting down to business. “It’s been a great time and we’ve done a lot of important things, so let’s continue that work now.”
Nelson, who said her last day will be May 15, will leave the PUC having served more time than anyone else. However, Commissioner Ken Anderson could soon eclipse her tenure. He joined the PUC one month after Nelson did, and his current term expires in August.
Marquez was appointed to the commission in August 2013. Her six-year term expires in September 2019.
Nelson said she would elaborate on her future plans as her end date nears.
Abbott will appoint Nelson’s replacement as chairman, as well as fill the commission’s vacancy. The PUC oversees ERCOT and Texas electric, telecommunication, water and sewer utilities.
Nelson also represents the PUC on SPP’s Regional State Committee, which provides regulatory input to the RTO. She will be replaced on the RSC by one of her fellow commissioners.
Ironically, Nelson, who is not a fan of personal photos, also said she had “good news”: “I’m getting my portrait taken.”
Her official studio photo will finally join those of the other current and previous commissioners on the PUC’s hearing room’s walls.
Before joining the PUC, Nelson was a special assistant and adviser to Perry on energy and telecommunication issues. She also served as legal adviser to a previous PUC chairman and as a former assistant attorney general for Texas, where she specialized in antitrust law.
A South Dakota native, she received a bachelor’s degree from Black Hills State College and a law degree from Texas Tech University.