Last week the Texas Tribune issued a report on State Sen. Troy Fraser (R–Horseshoe Bay), linking the senator’s financial interests with auto dealers to his opposition to legislation designed to allow Tesla Motors to sell directly to consumers in Texas. The Tribune compiled the report in consultation with the leftist “watchdog” groups Texans for Public Justice and Common Cause Texas.
Although the Tribune mentioned in passing that Fraser owned interests in NextEra Energy, they failed to identify the true magnitude and extent of the senator’s connections to the energy company, or how those interests have played in a House/Senate feud over legislation Fraser is joint-authoring.
According to the senator’s personal financial statement, Fraser owns between $100,000 and $500,000 in stock in the Florida-based company, which owns Florida Power & Light. Though the financial ties are clear, the political connections go much deeper. Fraser once gave the keynote address at the dedication of a Florida Power and Light wind farm near Abilene. NextEra’s PAC is a donor to Fraser’s political campaign fund and two former Fraser committee and Senate office staffers, Michael Gregg and Daniel Madru, are being paid lucrative contracts this session to lobby on NextEra’s behalf.
NextEra is the most likely suitor to purchase Oncor, the regulated utility in control of most electricity transmission lines in Texas. Oncor is the plum asset coming out of the bankruptcy of Energy Future Holdings, the failed product of a 2007 $45 billion leveraged buyout of TXU. NextEra is bidding $18 billion for Oncor, and Fraser has praised the company’s potential takeover.
In fact, Fraser even sponsored legislation giving the Public Utility Commission a veto over Oncor’s ownership change.
Fraser is a joint author this session of Senate Bill 523, which would subject the state’s river authorities to a limited sunset review, including the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). LCRA is the state’s only authority with electricity production and transmission capacity. SB 523, as passed by the Senate, would subject those electricity assets to sunset review heading into the 2019 legislative session.
When the companion to SB 523 came to the House floor, State Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) offered an amendment carving the LCRA electricity assets out from the sunset review. The amendment brought Democrat Chris Turner (D–Arlington) to the back microphone to praise Workman’s change.
“Mr. Chairman, I want to sincerely thank you for taking those amendments, particularly the one by Mr. Workman. From what I understand, I think it’s a very important amendment to LCRA because I’ve heard that there’s a company out of state, I think in Florida, that wants to put LCRA’s transmission lines under sunset in an attempt to do a hostile takeover. I don’t know if you’ve heard that but I think Mr. Workman had a good amendment and sincerely thank you for taking it.”
The allegation is that NextEra is confident in its bid to take over Oncor, and through Fraser’s senate bill, was seeking to put LCRA’s transmission lines under sunset review. If the company could influence Sunset to recommend that LCRA divest of its transmission and energy production facilities, Oncor would be in prime position to swoop in and buy the assets at a deep discount.
In the Texas Legislature, things are not always what they seem to be. Bills designed to provide transparency to unaccountable state entities can easily morph into legislation that instead increases a senator’s stock holdings. Texas government demands vigilance from both legislators and citizens alike.