Texas Should Pay People's Massive, Post-Storm Energy Bills, Houston Mayor Says

Gov. Greg Abbott said the state had "a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills."

The mayor of Houston said Sunday the state of Texas should pay the exorbitant energy bills reported by many Texans following disastrous winter weather last week that knocked out power for millions.

Many Texas residents have reported stratospheric energy bills, some in the thousands of dollars, as snow, ice and historic cold wrought havoc across the state and left dozens dead.

Texas’ electricity grid, unlike the rest of the continental United States, operates its own power network that is largely unregulated. High demand during a supply crisis ― like last week’s heating blitz while power plants were crippled ― can lead to dramatic price hikes for residents with variable-rate power plans.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in an interview Sunday that the blame lies with Texas lawmakers for the pervasive and predictable faults in the state’s energy network.

“All of this was foreseeable,” Turner said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And so, for these exorbitant costs, it’s not the consumers who should assume that cost. They are not at fault for what happened this week. … Those bills, those exorbitant costs, should be borne by the state of Texas.”

The mayor added the state should “open up” its energy grid or risk a repeat scenario.

Many of Texas’ power generating systems failed last week because of the weather, just as demand surged. Frozen natural gas pipelines and power plants unprepared for freezing weather were major culprits.

The state’s electricity grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure and cascading problems that would have left those millions without power for months, said Bill Magness, president of the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, which manages power for about 90% of the state.

Grid operators responded with rolling blackouts that left many without heat in brutal cold.

Electricity prices in Texas in winter are usually about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, NPR noted, but last week those prices soared to as much as $9 per kilowatt-hour. Some residents whose power stayed on have reported bills nearing $17,000, due to risky energy contracts that can be inexpensive when power is cheap, but outrageous when it’s expensive.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) responded to those concerns on Sunday, saying the state was working to figure out how to keep residents from shouldering steep bills. The Public Utility Commission issued two orders that temporarily block energy providers from disconnecting customers who haven’t paid their bills and another to stop companies from sending invoices until the state sorts out what to do.

“We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” Abbott said in a statement. “We are moving quickly to alleviate this problem and will continue to work collaboratively throughout this week on solutions to help Texas families and ensure they do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”

Most Texans have now had their power restored. About 16,000 people still didn’t have service as of Sunday evening.

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