Sitton Attacks Christian on Renewable Energy Push

In the latest volley in an increasingly contentious Republican runoff for Texas railroad commissioner, Ryan Sitton on Tuesday slammed Wayne Christian over his failed push in the Texas House for a renewable energy mandate.

Candidates for Texas Railroad Commissioner, Ryan Sitton, left, and Wayne Christian.
Candidates for Texas Railroad Commissioner, Ryan Sitton, left, and Wayne Christian.

Ryan Sitton is reaching into Wayne Christian’s legislative past in an effort to raise questions about his conservative credentials.

In the latest volley in an increasingly contentious Republican runoff for Texas railroad commissioner, Sitton said on Tuesday that Christian's failed push in the Texas House for a renewable energy mandate runs contrary to the small-government principles he touts.

In 2005, lawmakers passed a bill requiring the addition to the grid of 5,000 megawatts of renewable electric capacity, setting a “target” of 500 megawatts of power from renewable sources other than wind — Texas’ biggest source of alternative energy. In 2007, Christian proposed legislation that would have changed the non-wind target to a mandate. After that legislation failed, Christian appealed to the Public Utility Commission, according to a letter to then-PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman that Sitton's campaign has circulated. 

“Christian claims to be a free-market conservative, but the letter makes clear that when he couldn’t pass the subsidies and mandates he wanted for inefficient renewable energy in the legislature, he tried to pressure the Public Utility Commission of Texas to adopt his mandate,” Sitton’s campaign said in a statement.

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In the letter, Christian argued that the non-wind mandate would “bring significant environmental and economic benefits to electricity consumers in Texas” while diversifying the state’s energy portfolio.

“Because so much time and so many resources have already been devoted to development of solar generation,” Christian wrote, “it is my hope that you would take a close look at how other technologies, such as biomass and geothermal power, can contribute to our state’s generation.”

The PUC ultimately refused to adopt such a requirement.

The East Texas lawmaker had said that any short-term spike in electricity prices would be offset by long-term benefits in his region, whose lumber industry would benefit from investments in wood-to-energy projects.

But the free-market group Americans for Prosperity opposed the idea, saying it would cost ratepayers too much.

"Frankly, we oppose the state subsidizing any energy generation," Peggy Venable, the group’s Texas director, told the Houston Chronicle in 2007. "There is a market for energy, and when renewable energy becomes viable, then the market will demand it."

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Travis McCormick, Christian’s campaign manager, shrugged off such criticism on Tuesday, saying Christian’s bill differed little from any other economic development idea.

“It definitely would have helped business in his home area,” he said.

As has been the norm in this runoff, McCormick tried to turn the tables on Sitton, accusing his oil and gas engineering firm, PinnacleAIS, of accepting federal stimulus dollars and money.

“It’s kind of exaggerating our record on one hand and pointing voters away from his,” McCormick said.

But as The Texas Tribune reported in February, the accusation, which first surfaced in Sitton’s 2012 run for Texas House, is not true and based on incomplete information.   

Sitton’s opponent in that race — state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood — lobbed the attack, basing it on a reprint of a news article posted on Pinnacle's website. The article said the “company’s executives decided to take advantage of stimulus funds and obtain financing through a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan.” Sitton said he applied for but never took out an SBA loan.

The federal database of stimulus awards shows none went to Pinnacle.

“The story was written before a financial decision was made,” Jared Craighead, Sitton’s spokesman, said of the Pinnacle posting. “That allegation was flat-out wrong.”  

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