Oncor, the state’s largest transmission and distribution utility, is now just a hair’s breadth away from having new owners.
On Monday a federal Bankruptcy Court in Delaware delivered its final OK to a multi-billion-dollar offer from California-based Sempra. It’s now only up to the Texas Public Utility Commission to sign off — and observers expect the agency may act during its next meeting on March 8. All relevant stakeholders also are on board.
Oncor, which serves millions of households in north, central and west Texas, went for sale four years ago after the financial collapse of its erstwhile parent company, Energy Future Holdings. Public advocates deemed two previous offers — one by a consortium that included Dallas Billionaire Ray L. Hunt and another from Florida-based conglomerate NextEra — as raw deals for ratepayers. Another offer by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire-Hathaway received better reviews, but never officially made it to the PUC.
The Steering Committee of Cities Served by Oncor has advocated for consumers throughout the entire sale process. Responding directly to concerns expressed by that city coalition and other interested parties, Sempra has agreed to dozens of commitments intended to financially protect the utility’s customers. Among them are a commitment to deliver most of the savings from lower interest rates associated with the deal back to customers, and a commitment to maintain financial and managerial firewalls between its free-market operations and the regulated utility.
Because Oncor is a regulated monopoly, any change of ownership must receive advance approval from the PUC. But unlike the federal bankruptcy court, the Texas agency isn’t charged with looking out for investors but rather looking out for the public. Under Texas law, the PUC has until April 4th to accept, amend or reject Sempra’s proposal.
Oncor serves about 3.4 million homes and businesses, mostly in Central and North Texas. Sempra serves 7.3 million homes and businesses through San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas. It also owns utility companies in Chile and Peru and is developing a natural gas export facility in Port Arthur, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Despite the bankruptcy of its parent, the utility has remained solidly profitable.