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Texans Can’t Lose Power For Nonpayment, Orders Utilities Commission

February 21, 2021

The Public Utilities Commission of Texas will stop utilities from cutting off customers from the power supply, even if they don’t pay their electricity bill, in response to the sky-high electricity rates that some Texans have reported amidst the recent winter weather event.

At a meeting on Sunday evening, the Public Utilities Commission of Texas passed emergency orders that prohibit investor-owned utility companies from cutting off power access to customers for not paying their electricity bills. The state’s utility commission also “urged retail electric providers to delay invoicing for residential and small commercial electricity customers, including invoices with estimated meter reads.”

“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 PUC Chairman DeAnn Walker in a statement. “The order and directives are intended to be temporary, likely through the end of this week, to address the potential financial impacts that are especially challenging during this extremely difficult time.”

Governor Greg Abbott said Saturday that Texas had a responsibility to protect residents from energy bill spikes that resulted from the recent sub-freezing temperatures, which led to a massive power shortage across the states last week.

“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,” said Abbott in a statement.

In recent days, reports have emerged of Texans facing four- and even five-figure utility bills in response to the recent weather event. According to The New York Times, many of these residents were subscribed to a service called Griddy, a utility that sells customers power at wholesale prices for a small monthly fee. While these customers typically receive cheap energy, the exact opposite happened when energy became scarce in Texas and the Public Utilities Commission increased the maximum cost of energy to $9 per kilowatt-hour. (The average U.S. residential utility customer used 877 kilowatt-hours per month in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.)

ABC News reports that Griddy went so far as to urge its 29,000 customers to switch to a different provider last Sunday. The New York Times reports that Griddy “appeared to try to shift anger” toward the utility commission in a statement Thursday, saying: “We intend to fight this for, and alongside, our customers for equity and accountability – to reveal why such price increases were allowed to happen as millions of Texans went without power.”

Related: Biden Issues Disaster Declaration For Texas Amidst Severe Winter Weather

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