Workers repair a power line in Austin, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2021.
Thomas Ryan Allison | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Sunday called on the state of Texas to pay for the enormous electric bills that scores of Texans reported after severe winter weather knocked out power and rose energy prices.
Frigid conditions last week caused major grid failures and skyrocketing demand that left millions of people without heat and electricity. Now, as power resumes for most of Texas, some households face utility bills as high as $10,000.
“For people getting these exorbitant electricity bills and having to pay to repair their homes, they should not have to bear the responsibility,” Turner said during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Those exorbitant costs should be borne by the state of Texas and not the individual customers who did not cause this catastrophe this week.”
The high utility bills in Texas are due to the state’s unregulated power grid that’s nearly cut off from the rest of the country. In the market-driven system, customers pick their own power suppliers. In many cases, when demand increases, prices also rise.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages power for roughly 90% of the state, was unprepared for the cold conditions and the surge in demand for power as people tried to heat their homes.
“All of what happened this past week was foreseeable and preventable. Our system in Texas is designed for summer heat and not necessarily a winter event,” Turner said.
“Climate change is real and these major storms can happen at any time,” he added. “These systems need to be weatherized … we need to open up the Texas grid.”
The exorbitant bills prompted Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to hold an emergency meeting with lawmakers on Saturday to address how the state can reduce the burden on consumers.
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The Public Utility Commission of Texas also held an emergency meeting on Sunday to issue a moratorium on cutting customer power over non-payments. It also plans to restrict providers from sending customer invoices, Abbott announced at a press briefing on Sunday.
“Texans who have suffered through days of freezing cold without power should not be subjected to skyrocketing energy bills due to a spike in the energy market,” Abbott said at the briefing.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas., said Sunday during an interview on CNN that the state will use disaster relief funding from the federal government to support customers with high utility payments.
After more than 3 million people in Texas lost power last week, ERCOT said it’s returned to normal conditions and restored power for millions of customers. More than 30,000 people in Texas still didn’t have power as of 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning, according to recent data from PowerOutage.us.
More than 1,300 public water systems were disrupted from the extreme weather and more than 15 million people were under orders as of Saturday to boil their water, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for 77 counties in Texas on Saturday, unlocking federal aid for Texans, grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses. The state’s goal is to eventually have all 254 counties under the declaration.