USA TODAY International Edition

Most in Texas likely will be spared spikes in elec­tric bill

- Lori Hawkins Business · Clean Tech · Ecology · Texas · University of Texas · Greg Abbott · Dan Patrick · Austin Energy · Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative · Pedernales Electric Cooperative · Denison, TX

After weath­er­ing power and wa­ter out­ages and bro­ken pipes, many Cen­tral Tex­ans are now fac­ing their next fear: What will their elec­tric­ity bill look like after all of this?

As some Tex­ans re­port sky- high bills, cus­tomers of the area’s three largest elec­tric­ity providers – Austin En­ergy, Blue­bon­net Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive and the Ped­er­nales Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive – should see no such spike, officials said.

In a state­ment to cus­tomers, Austin En­ergy ex­plained that those affected by ma­jor bill spikes are see­ing elec­tric rates con­trolled by vari­able price billing and are there­fore vul­ner­a­ble to sud­den price swings from the whole­sale en­ergy mar­ket.

“In con­trast, Austin En­ergy’s base rates are fixed and any changes must be au­tho­rized by Austin City Coun­cil, our gov­ern­ing body, after a thor­ough rate re­view process,” Austin En­ergy said.

Res­i­den­tial cus­tomers are billed for their ac­tual en­ergy use, mea­sured in kilo­watt- hours recorded from their elec­tric me­ter, Austin En­ergy said.

“Any­one with­out power dur­ing this time pe­riod had no elec­tric use recorded from me­ters dur­ing th­ese out­age events. Austin En­ergy cus­tomers are charged only for the power con­sumed and will be charged at the ex­ist­ing rates,” the state­ment said.

Blue­bon­net, Ped­er­nales cus­tomers avoid huge spikes

Blue­bon­net and the Ped­er­nales pro­vided sim­i­lar mes­sages to their cus­tomers.

“Blue­bon­net Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive’s elec­tric rates will not in­crease as a re­sult of Fe­bru­ary’s ex­treme weather in the same way that some Tex­ans will ex­pe­ri­ence ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports,” the elec­tric ser­vice provider said. “Blue­bon­net has power sup­ply con­tracts in place that are meant to pro­tect our mem­bers from price volatil­ity in the ERCOT ( Elec­tric Re­li­a­bil­ity Coun­cil of Texas) whole­sale power mar­ket.”

How­ever, Blue­bon­net added that ex­tremely cold tem­per­a­tures dur­ing Fe­bru­ary’s his­toric cold spell caused mem­bers to use more elec­tric­ity than they would dur­ing a nor­mal Fe­bru­ary.

“There­fore, mem­bers should ex­pect to see elec­tric bills sim­i­lar to ones they nor­mally see dur­ing hot sum­mer months, like July and Au­gust,” Blue­bon­net said.

Ped­er­nales said that al­though the rate for base power dur­ing the re­cent storm will not change, rates still could in­crease be­cause of the amount of en­ergy con­sumed.

“Keep in mind, heat­ing your home dur­ing cold weather can cause higher than nor­mal en­ergy con­sump­tion,” Ped­er­nales said.

Why some are see­ing huge bills

The surge in pric­ing is hit­ting peo­ple who have cho­sen to pay whole­sale prices for their power, which typ­i­cally is cheaper than pay­ing fixed rates dur­ing good weather but can spike when there’s a high de­mand for elec­tric­ity. Many of those who have re­ported re­ceiv­ing large bills are cus­tomers of elec­tric­ity provider Griddy, which op­er­ates only in Texas.

Griddy, which launched in 2017, charges $ 10 a month to give peo­ple a way to pay whole­sale prices for elec­tric­ity in­stead of a fixed rate. It warned cus­tomers of rais­ing prices and urged them to switch providers. The com­pany said whole­sale prices re­turned to nor­mal as of Feb. 20.

Among affected cus­tomers is Su­san Hos­ford of Deni­son, Texas. On a typ­i­cal Fe­bru­ary day, she pays Griddy less than $ 2.50 for power. But the one- day cost spiked to hun­dreds of dol­lars after the storm. In all, she was au­to­mat­i­cally charged $ 1,346.17 for the first two weeks of Fe­bru­ary, which was more than she had in her check­ing ac­count, caus­ing her bank to charge her over­draft fees and affect other bills.

“This whole thing has been a night­mare,” she said.

Vari­able pric­ing makes sense for some

Univer­sity of Texas en­ergy ex­pert and re­search fel­low Dave Tut­tle said that most cus­tomers who have an op­tion for vari­able pric­ing se­lect sta­ble plans.

“That is part of what re­tail cus­tomers pay util­i­ties to do – be the in­ter­me­di­ary and man­age the risks,” Tut­tle said. “And a vast ma­jor­ity of the re­tail choice cus­tomers se­lect more sta­ble plans. But about 29,000 peo­ple in the com­pet­i­tive re­tail ar­eas of ERCOT chose Griddy out of over 25 mil­lion cus­tomers in ERCOT.”

Vari­able pric­ing does make sense for some cus­tomers, Tut­tle said: “Say you’re a rancher and have a lot of wa­ter to pump into stock tanks. You can sim­ply turn it off when the price goes up. You have to mon­i­tor to shut off your load.”

That’s why the so­lu­tion is not to elim­i­nate the op­tion of vari­able pric­ing, he said. “The an­swer isn’t a man­date that says, ‘ We’re go­ing to come in and nanny state you and you can’t have this choice.’ You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath­wa­ter.”

Gov. Greg Ab­bott has vowed to rein in price goug­ing. On Satur­day, he met with Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick, House Speaker Dade Phe­lan and mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture to dis­cuss the sky­rock­et­ing elec­tric bills that some Tex­ans are be­gin­ning to see.

“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.”

 ?? USA TO­DAY NET­WORK ?? As some Tex­ans face sky­rock­et­ing elec­tric bills, Austin res­i­dents should be spared, of­fi­cials said.
USA TO­DAY NET­WORK As some Tex­ans face sky­rock­et­ing elec­tric bills, Austin res­i­dents should be spared, of­fi­cials said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA