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Alumna balances public interest, industry needs in work

February 2, 2012 | Alumni

When appointed officials of the Public Utility Commission of Texas have a contested case before them, they turn to Katherine Gross ’08 for help.

The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law alumna is a commission advising attorney at the PUC, the agency that regulates Texas’ electric and telecommunication utilities, implements legislation, and resolves consumer complaints. She researches issues and advises the three commissioners responsible for making decisions that affect Texans on a daily basis.

“Rate cases affect everyone,” Gross said. “Thinking about the public is one of the primary concerns of the commissioners, and it’s one of ours when we’re making recommendations to them.”

The commissioners, who are appointed by the governor, also have to weigh the needs of industry in their decisions. If energy prices are low, companies are more inclined to do business in the Lone Star State.

Gross recently finished work on a large group of cases involving the placement of electric transmission lines. In 2005, the Texas Legislature passed a law establishing renewable energy thresholds to be met by 2025 and required the PUC to develop a plan to ensure that sufficient transmission infrastructure be built to meet this goal. The resulting plan, developed by the PUC for transmitting energy harnessed from the windy Texas Panhandle and Gulf of Mexico to Texas’ highly populated cities, will eventually transmit 18,456 megawatts of wind energy.

“We had a series of cases deciding where the best places would be for those transmission lines, and in many cases the lines were over 60 miles long, creating complex landowner issues. There was rarely a case where absolutely everyone agreed,” Gross said. “We were bound to run into people who were not happy about it.”

Gross would like to continue working in public service long-term because she is passionate about contributing to the communities in which she lives.

“I really enjoy working for the state. What’s important for me is having a job where I feel that I am helping my community,” she said.

Gross found work in Texas on summers off from law school because of the long-distance relationship she was maintaining with her future husband, Eric, a computer engineer in Austin. Her first summer, she worked with a legal aid attorney through a Public Interest Law Foundation fellowship. Gross joined the Texas Attorney General’s office after her second year of law school. Those experiences helped her in a tough job market after graduating.

While studying and waiting for the results of her bar exam, Gross worked in the call center at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. A lot of the cases dealt with family law, landlord-tenant disputes, and bankruptcy filings. Sometimes, she would simply give advice over the telephone. “It was an interesting job because I talked to so many people every day, and it helped me to quickly learn a lot of Texas law,” she said.

After joining the PUC, Gross continued to volunteer her time and talents. She currently does pro bono work for Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, as well as volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas and Austin Pets Alive!, an animal rescue organization working to make Austin a city where animals are only euthanized if they are extremely violent or have incurable diseases.

“I really get fulfillment out of benefiting my community,” she said, “whether it’s helping the state or a nonprofit.”

This article was written by Monica DeMeglio.