Ted Thomas

It’s not often that we see a fired-up recusal from an Arkansas Public Service Commission investigation. But today we did.

With a reference to a character in television’s “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” PSC Chairman Ted Thomas issued a strongly worded recusal from an investigation involving Petit Jean Electric Cooperative and other companies.

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In July, the commission opened an investigation of allegedly unauthorized net-metering practices for solar energy customers of electric distribution cooperatives. Several companies, including Petit Jean, soon requested Thomas’ recusal, citing his earlier public statements.

“In particular, during a state legislative committee hearing five months ago, he testified that cooperatives with … interconnection requirements now under challenge or review are ‘not doing the right thing;’ should have gone through the Commission’s tariffing process; and have a ‘strategy’ that is ‘designed to delay, delay, delay.’ His public statements reflect predisposition or prejudgment of key issues now set for” PSC consideration, the companies wrote.

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In his recusal statement, Thomas fired back and referred to a conflict he had with Petit Jean in 2019.

“Then, like a Saul Goodman stunt, Petit Jean’s counsel falsely accused me of criminal conduct and sought my recusal. Better Call Saul!” he wrote. “‘Members’ like Belinda and Samuel Lister [of Fairfield Bay] got billed for that garbage too. Of course, Petit Jean and its counsel are entitled to and in fact receive fair hearings at the PSC, up to and including the rate increase that was approved for Petit Jean a few weeks ago.”

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Thomas said his more recent comments before legislators were true.

“I said ‘do the right thing’ because leaving solar panels on a roof not interconnected for over a year is not doing the right thing,” he wrote. “Why is it so important to Petit Jean that [the Listers’] solar panels not be connected to the grid? At the hearing I said that the purpose [of] not interconnecting is so that they will stand as an example to their neighbors about … what happens when a mere ‘member’ seeks to oppose the monopolist and its army of litigators. ‘Members’ then get to pay the army of litigators that oppose them.”

By recusing, Thomas indicated he hopes to forestall “a meritless appeal” and any resulting litigation delay by the utilities.

“I do not wish to be use as a weapon by the monopolist in the endless expensive efforts to keep people like Belinda and Samuel Lister from interconnection to the grid,” he wrote.

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“It’s all good man. I recuse,” Thomas concluded.

You can read more about the case in this story from May.