TEXAS – Another crisis some Texans are dealing with: sky-high utility bills. Gov. Greg Abbott announced a moratorium preventing energy companies from cutting off power to those who have not been paying their bills. It is an issue legislative leaders will also tackle this session.
Why some Texans are facing costly electric bills and others are not all depends on what kind of energy plans consumers have. Those who have fixed rate plans are largely spared from the such expenses, and those with variable plans are facing skyrocketing bills due to the extreme market shifts.
To power his 3,000 square foot home just outside of Dallas, U.S. Army veteran Scott Willoughby got hit with a $17,000 utility bill from Griddy.
“It was a horrible, just a sinking in the gut feeling that there was nothing you could do. It’s totally out of your control,” Willoughby said.
Griddy customers all over Texas are feeling the strain of monstrous electricity bills. The Houston-based energy supplier warned customers to switch over to other providers, and Willoughby tried but he said the processing time was not fast enough. Despite the high expense, Willoughby, who is in general construction and has been a home builder for more than 20 years, said he considers himself fortunate because he at least had money saved up unlike others who may be living paycheck to paycheck.
“I had to pull out of savings and transfer over to the checking account to pay the bill. It didn’t leave me penniless, but it took a big bite out of my savings for retirement,” Willoughby said.
Unlike some city-owned utilities, Griddy offers variable rate plans, meaning they are subject to market fluctuations.
Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said the state’s deregulated energy market has created capacity and competition, but some consumer rights groups said in reality, folks are not shopping around.
“It’s not like going to the store and, you know, looking at three or five different kinds of bread and picking one out. There are a lot of different variables to consider. And some aspects of those variables are complicated,” said Kaiba White, an Energy Policy and Outreach Specialist with Public Citizen.
Gov. Abbott convened a group of state lawmakers last weekend to figure out how to cushion the financial blow of exorbitant bills. Democratic State Sen. Royce West of Texas Senate’s 23rd in Dallas was a part of those discussions.
“Everything’s on the table, okay? I think we look at the whole system, and what needs to happen though, Reena, is that we’ve got to make sure people are educated, specifically legislators that are going to have to make decisions about this. We need to make sure we get a good clear picture and then make decision,” said West while speaking to Spectrum News 1 reporter Reena Diamanate.
West said there was a sense of urgency during that meeting among legislative leaders. He stressed the important of bipartisanship.
“We’ve got to come together as Texans and fix this particular problem, regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, whether you are rural, suburban, or urban, we’ve got to fix this problem, because everyone is being impacted by this situation,” West said.
Willoughby said he wants the state legislature to change rules on regulating the state energy market, so no Texan ends up paying thousands of dollars for electricity during a winter storm.
“Griddy just passes the wholesale cost of electricity on to the customers and charge a membership fee. So, I mean, Griddy didn’t really do anything wrong, other than I think there should be some type of disclosure on the risk. There should be some type of a warning that said that, you know, this is extremely risky, and don’t enter into it lightly,” Willoughby said.
Republican State Rep. Chris Paddie of Marshall was also part of the weekend discussions with Abbott over high utility bills.
“We don’t want citizens to be bearing unreasonable costs for failures in other areas that were beyond their control. We’re talking about all of these things,” Paddie told Capital Tonight’s Karina Kling in a recent interview.
Paddie is the chair of the State Affairs Committee, which is holding one of the first hearings on the power outages in a joint meeting Thursday with the Energy Resources Committee.
“There were issues throughout the system and so we want to start on Thursday and take that first step to begin to uncover what were the problems? Once we know those, of course, we’ll begin finding meaningful solutions to those problems so it never happens again in the future,” Paddie said.