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Second Texas utility commissioner exits amid power outage fallout


HOUSTON (Reuters) - A second commissioner of the Texas utilities regulator resigned on Monday, in continued fallout from a weather-driven crisis in the state's power market.

Commissioner Shelly Botkin resigned effective immediately, the Public Utility Commission of Texas said. Her departure came a week after DeAnn Walker resigned as the regulator's chair amid criticism of the PUC'S handling of a deadly blackout during a mid-February freeze.

A PUC spokesman did not reply to a request for comment. Botkin could not be reached for comment.

The firestorm over the outage worsened last week as the state's independent market adviser said some power charges were increased in error and could be rolled back under commission rules.

Botkin and PUC Chairman Arthur D'Andrea, who was named to replace Walker last week, rejected repricing on Friday, saying it could have unintended consequences for power producers. On Monday, however, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said some charges should be lowered. [nL4N2L70F6]

Electricity and natural gas prices surged as an arctic air mass brought subzero temperatures, killing dozens of people and leaving much of the state's power market in the throes of a deep financial crisis. One company filed for bankruptcy and a dozen face removal from the state's grid for defaulting on power payments.

The state's electric industry faces $47 billion in one-time costs after the commission and grid operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) raised prices to induce generators to add power.

Botkin, who was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott to the commission in 2018, had been the spokeswoman for ERCOT before joining the commission. Under state law, remaining commissioner D'Andrea can act on proposals before the PUC.

"We’re losing more of the old guard here," said Tim Morstad, associate state director for consumer advocacy group AARP Texas. "The situation demands that Governor Abbott take this opportunity to bring in people with new ideas and a fresh approach," he added.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; editing by Richard Pullin and Leslie Adler)

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