In Oncor deal, Hunts face tough test at Texas utility commission

By James Osborne, Dallas Morning News

Staff Writer

Published: 31 December 2015 02:18 PM

Updated: 31 December 2015 02:19 PM

Four weeks ago in a windowless Delaware courtroom, a federal bankruptcy judge told a roomful of attorneys that he was approving their agreed upon plan to break up Energy Future Holdings. After more than 18 months of hearings, the ruling appeared to signal the end of what could have been a years-long legal battle over the Texas power giant.

There were conditions, but they seemed surmountable. Chief among them was that the Texas Public Utility Commission had to approve the sale of power line subsidiary Oncor to an investors’ group led by Dallas billionaire Ray L. Hunt. A major Republican donor whose name is synonymous with Texas industry, Hunt’s imprint was expected to carry the day, putting the state’s largest power utility in the hands of one of its favorite sons.

But a tidal wave of opposition has risen up around the deal in recent weeks.

Those fighting against it are arguing that the sale of of Oncor represents a massive transfer of wealth from Texas ratepayers to Hunt and his investors — a sprawling group that includes hedge funds, banks and the state teachers pension fund. At the same time, questions are being raised about whether Hunt’s plans to convert the company’s corporate structure into a Real Estate Investment Trust would leave Oncor financially unstable, threatening its ability to restore power after storms and maintain employees’ pensions.

Hunt Consolidated, the family-owned oil and real estate conglomerate, contests those claims and has filed hundreds of pages of documents with the utility commission before a hearing to decide its fate that begins Jan. 11.

“We believe that our offer provides the best outcome to Oncor customers and employees by keeping Oncor owned and managed by Texans for generations to come,” Hunt spokesman Jeanne Phillips said in a statement.

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