Texas utility commission orders delay of power disconnections due to concerns over high bills

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Public Utility Commission of Texas issued several orders Sunday aimed at protecting Texans from extremely high electric bills after a week of winter storms.

For several days, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has maintained that state leaders “have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills” following the storms that left millions without power or water for an extended period of time. Abbott said Sunday around 30,000 Texans are still without electricity.

The PUC called an emergency meeting to prevent possible utility disconnections for non-payment as early as Monday. The delay is an effort to “protect Texas electricity customers while leaders in the state consider solutions for the financial aftershocks of the winter storm grid event,” according to a release.

The orders addressed the following:

  • An immediate suspension of disconnections for non-payment until further notice, including ordering utilities not to process disconnection. 
  • Continuation of the COVID-19 measure under which retail electric providers are required to offer deferred payment plans to customers when requested.

A spokesperson with PUC says the orders are directed toward customers of investor owned utilities (IOUs) across the state that fall under the PUC’s jurisdiction, like Oncor, American Electric Power, CenterPoint, and Texas-New Mexico Power.

The provisions do not apply to municipally-owned utilities or electric cooperatives that are not within the PUC’s jurisdiction.

Locally, Austin Energy said in a statement that it “will not benefit financially in any way from this winter storm event.”

“Austin Energy’s base rates are fixed and any changes must be authorized by Austin City Council, our governing body, after a thorough rate review process. City Council directed Austin Energy to adjust customer’s base electric rates most recently in 2017 when rates decreased 6.7%,” according to a release.

PUC says it “strongly urged retail electric providers to delay invoicing for residential and small commercial electricity customers, including invoices with estimated meter reads.”

Chairman DeAnn Walker said the orders “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.”

The meeting’s second order was directed at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, calling on it to exercise the discretion under ERCOT protocols to deviate from protocol deadlines and timing related to settlements, collateral obligations, and invoice payments (which could lead to further market instability) while leaders in the state consider solutions to the financial challenges caused by the grid event, the release says.

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