AUSTIN - The Public Utility Commission of Texas on July 17 approved a large-scale plan to transmit a high quantity of wind-generated power on new lines from West Texas and the Panhandle to metropolitan areas of the state.

The $5 billion plan would add about $4 a month to residential electric bills. The PUC estimated that the new lines will be in service within four to five years.

SB 20, passed by the state Legislature in 2005, directed the PUC to select the most productive wind zones in the state and devise such a plan.

DPS chief resigns from office

On July 11, Col. Thomas A. Davis Jr., director of the Texas Department of Public Safety announced his resignation.

“After 43 years and 9 months with the Texas Department of Public Safety, I am retiring on Aug. 31, 2008,” he said.

Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst reacted to Davis’ announcement with statements expressing their appreciation of Davis and his many years of service.

Since the June 8 arson fire gutted the governor’s mansion, the Department of Public Safety, which maintains a security detail at the mansion, has been under increasing criticism. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Restoration fund kicks off

On July 14, Texas First Lady Anita Perry held a press conference to solicit private donations to a fund created to restore the fire-gutted Texas Governor’s Mansion.

The effort to fix up the 152-year-old state-owned building could take years and millions of dollars. Former Gov. Dolph Briscoe donated $100,000 to the fund.

Comptroller leads trade mission Texas Comptroller Susan Combs traveled to Spain in mid-July, leading a group of Texas government officials and business leaders on a business recruitment and trade mission. Combs promoted Texas as a business location for companies and offered the state’s assistance in finding opportunities. She cited Texas’ “favorable tax environment, tremendous work force, world-class universities and leadership in innovation and technology.”

Bell to run for state Senate seat Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, are signed from office effective June 2, leaving his seat vacant.

A Nov. 4 special election will decide who will fill the vacant Dist. 17 seat in the Texas Senate.

Democrat Chris Bell, a former member of Congress and candidate for governor of Texas in 2006, on July 13 announced his candidacy for the seat.

Republicans Joan Huffman, Austen Furse and Grant Harpold also have declared as candidates for the seat.

Perry spokesman Black resigns

Robert Black, the governor’s director of communications, announced his resignation on July 14.

Black, who had served on Gov. Perry’s staff since 2003, said he plans to form his own consulting business, specializing in public affairs and political and strategic communications.

Parks agency reports drownings

At least 13 people drowned in public waters over the Fourth of July holiday, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reported.

The total number of water-related fatalities in Texas is 66 so far this year; more than half of those deaths did not involve boats, according to TPWD.

Toll moratorium gets extension

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, announced July 10 that she secured her amendment to a federal transportation spending bill that would continue the current ban on placing toll booths on interstate highways in Texas through September 2009.

However, efforts to toll newly constructed lanes or new highways are not prohibited in Sen. Hutchison’s amendment. The transportation spending bill, S.3261, moves next to the full Senate for consideration.

Lawmakers promote propane use

Three powerful Texas House committee chairs penned an open letter to all state and local leaders, seeking to promote the conversion of vehicles to plentiful and clean burning propane fuel.

Among suggestions offered was replacing retired fleet vehicles such as school buses and garbage trucks with ones fueled by propane or natural gas.

“Escalating gasoline and diesel prices are threatening our national economy and draining our personal budgets,” they wrote.

The letter, dated July 14, was signed by Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, chair of House Ways and Means; Rep. Warren Chism, R-Pampa, chair of House Appropriations; and Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, chair of House Energy Resources.