Some Texans, already reeling from the devastating winter storm that swept through the state, are now finding themselves with power bills in the thousands of dollars due to a price surge. However, Governor Greg Abbott has stepped in to prevent Texans from being left without power during the ongoing crisis.
The storm system crashed through North America last week, affecting parts of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Cold temperatures and power outages have been reported across much of the southern United States and Northern Mexico. In addition to the storm system and its predecessors from the last few weeks covering about three fourths of the continental United States in snow, a flurry of tornados was unleashed across parts of Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. The focal point of the damage was Texas, where record-breaking temperatures that at times were lower than temperatures in Alaska resulted in mass power outages, water outages, and shortages of goods.
What many Texans didn't anticipate, however, was the massive power bills that would follow. Due to the deregulated Texan energy market, many consumers, who pay wholesale prices for power, were left with bills up to $5,000 for a week's worth of power. Wholesale pricing typically means that rates are cheaper than the fixed rates offered by regulated utility providers, but when demand surges and drives up the price of power, consumers are left footing the bill.
In response to the sudden price surge, Governor Abbott announced on Sunday that the state government would be intervening to help Texans still struggling with the effects of the storm. Under the governor's orders, utility providers are temporarily prohibited from issuing invoices and shutting off utilities due to unpaid bills. The measure is a temporary solution to give the Texan government time to address the crisis's financial implications.
"Our absolute top priority as a commission and a state is protecting electricity customers from the devastating effects of a storm that already affected their delivery of power," said Public Utility Commission of Texas Chairperson DeAnn Walker.
A great deal of criticism has circled the storm's handling, especially by the state government and utility companies. Before last week's massive storm system, severe winter weather has caused mass power outages at least twice previously. Despite previous attempts by regulators to push more responsibility to power companies, very few changes had been made to shore up Texas' massive yet vulnerable power grid. Many have accused the state Government of catering to the wills of utility providers over consumers.
"Too often, power companies get exactly what they want out of the PUC," Associate Director Tim Morstad of AARP Texas told ProPublica. "Even well-intentioned PUC staff are outgunned by armies of power company lawyers and their experts. The sad truth is that if power companies object to something, in this case simply providing information about the durability of certain equipment, they are extremely likely to get what they want."