Ted Thomas has resigned from the Arkansas Public Service Commission, two days after writing a strongly worded recusal from a solar-energy case involving Petit Jean Electric Cooperative and other utilities.
Thomas, who has four years left on his PSC appointment, told the Arkansas Times today that his resignation has “nothing to do with the Petit Jean” case but quickly acknowledged, “No one will believe” that.
Thomas said he submitted his letter of resignation to Governor Hutchinson yesterday and said it takes effect Oct. 1.
“It’s time to move on to the next challenge,” he said. That challenge will be in the private sector, he said.
Thomas said his move was already in the works before his recusal from the PSC’s investigation of allegedly unauthorized net-metering practices for solar energy customers of electric distribution cooperatives. Several companies, including Petit Jean, had requested Thomas’ recusal.
Thomas would not say specifically what his next job will be, but he gave a few hints.
He said he was aware of restrictions on what he cannot legally do for one year — lobbying — and has been compliant and intended to continue being so. Another restriction, he said, is that he cannot ever participate in any areas that he regulated while on the commission because that involves a confidentiality matter. Thomas also said the law prohibits him from talking about his next employer while he’s on the commission if he regulates that employer.
Thomas said his resignation “was completely voluntary.”
“No one in the governor’s office, no one in the legislature, no one, period” pressured him to resign, he said.
Thomas said he thanked the governor for the opportunity to serve on the commission. He said he was grateful that he got to spend so many years in public service — as a prosecutor, legislator and commissioner.
Petit Jean and other companies had recently called on Thomas to recuse and cited his comments during a legislative committee hearing five months ago. They said 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.”
Thomas agreed to step away from the investigation but didn’t do so quietly. He referred to another 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.”
Thomas responded: “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.”
Thomas said he hoped the recusal forestalls “a meritless appeal” and any resulting litigation delay by the utilities.