Tuesday, April 25, 2017


By Juan Montoya
Starting today, officials, administrators, and staff of the Brownsville Public utility Board who need to travel to meetings and training seminars will travel out of the Brownsville-South Padre Island Airport.

They had used the Harlingen airport, according to insiders close to the city commission, because the airlines serving Valley Regional Airport there provide first-class seating and those flying out of Brownsville do not.

"They like to fly first class and the airlines in Brownsville don't provide that,' she said. "From now on, they promised to fly out of Brownsville."
The City of Brownsville has long subsidized airport operations to maintain air service here. But while one arm of the city is subsidizing the airport, the PUB was using public funds to patronize the airlines flying out of Harlingen.

"That just makes no sense," she said. "Here you have us using public funds to keep the airport going and these guys at the PUB are paying first-class fares out of Harlingen."

And in the other item heard in executive session, City of Brownsville commissioners agreed to table their call for a review and audit of the COB-Tenaska $500 million power plant and its feasibility after the PUB members told then that a Black and Veatch Engineering report on just that was due to be issued within a month. However, PUB officials agreed to let commissioners read the MOU, but not to make copies or its contents available to the general public.

These two items were the only ones at the joint COB-PUB special meeting held Monday at City Hall.

Commissioners have been under pressure from city residents after the January 2015 announcement that the city and Tenaska planned to build the 800 MW plant for $500 million. The city's share of power – 200 MWs – was going to cost $325 million, with the other 600 MWs to go to the private company Tenaska  for their $175 million. The city's share of the cost (more than one half of the $500 million) equals to one-quarter of the energy while Tenaska gets three-quarters of the energy produced for about 35 percent (one third) of the cost of the plant.

Originally, the principals – mainly PUB CEO John Bruciak and Mayor Tiny Martinez – said that the construction of the plant would hinge on the private company being able to sell the 600 MWs on the open market. However, their original projections of  an electric shortage were erased when two other gas-fired, electric generating plants came online. Now, according to Fitch Ratings, the new plants and others in the Rio Grande Valley have created a glut on the market that leaves more than 425 MWs available for consumers.

Eben before Martinez and Tenaska officials made the January 2013 announcement that the city and the company had signed a Memorandum of Understanding, city commissioners had unanimously approved an upward hike in utility rates to back the bonds to build the plant. Their vote assured that electric rates would increase by 36 percent  from 2013 to 2016, water rates 20 percent from 2013 to 2016, and waste water services 6 percent over over the first two years and stay there indefinitely.

Tenaska officials predicted the plant would be finished and up and running by June 2016.
There is no way of knowing what recourse the city had in terminating the MOU since PUB and city officials – including PUB legal counsel Eddie Treviño – have fought to keep the MOU secret from the public. Numerous requests for information have resulted in protests to the Texas Attorney General that its release would rove harmful to the company and the city because of the "competitive" nature of the energy business.

As a result of last night's joint meeting, PUB legal counsel and officials say they will allow city officials to view the MOU, but not to make copies or distribute the document to the general public.

Critics who heard that the PUB was going to release the Black and Veatch report remained skeptical of the PUB offer.
"These are the people that are paid by PUB to prepare impact studies and other energy-related services," said one. "How can we trust them to deliver an impartial report since they are paid by PUB?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't fly out of that fucking airport. It looks like a 3rd world Latin American country airport. You guys in Brownsville should be ashamed.