Texas utilities cannot burden prospects with big payments after the storm: Abbott

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A car idles in a driveway on Jordan Drive, an early morning street in Corpus Christi with no power

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By Linda So and Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – Texas utility regulators will temporarily ban utility companies from billing customers or disconnecting them for non-payment after the deadly winter storm that caused widespread power outages, Governor Greg Abbott said Sunday.

Abbott convened an emergency meeting with lawmakers Saturday after reports reported that many customers received bills for thousands of dollars for just a few days of electricity while Texas was ravaged by freezing temperatures.

“Texans who have been freezing for days without electricity shouldn’t be exposed to skyrocketing energy bills,” Abbott told reporters on Sunday in San Antonio.

He said the Texas Public Utility Commission will instruct electricity companies to stop sending bills to customers and impose a temporary moratorium on disconnection for non-payment.

The state will use the time to find a way to protect utility customers, Abbott said.

“The problem of utility bills and the skyrocketing prices faced by so many homeowners and renters is a top priority for Texas lawmakers right now,” he said.

Texas has a highly unusual deregulated energy market where consumers can choose from numerous competing electricity providers.

Some providers sell electricity at wholesale prices that rise in sync with demand. This skyrocketed when the record-breaking frost struck a state unaccustomed to extreme cold, killed at least two dozen people and, at its peak, switched off more than 4 million people. Around 30,000 people were still without electricity on Sunday, Abbott said.

As a result, some Texans who were still able to turn on the lights or keep their refrigerator running only faced bills over $ 5,000 for five days. This is evident from photos of invoices posted on social media by disgruntled consumers.

The Dallas Morning News said a provider offering a wholesale plan had urged its thousands of customers to switch suppliers before the storm to avoid high prices, but many felt it would take too long to switch providers .

“The bill should go to the state of Texas,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in an interview with CBS News on Sunday. “If they get those exorbitant utility bills and have to pay for their houses and repair their houses, they shouldn’t have to be responsible.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price told CBS that both the state and federal government should help with the bills.

The US Senator Ted Cruz, who was forced to interrupt a trip to the Mexican seaside resort of Cancun with his family after public outrage, also distanced himself from the previously praised market system.

“This is FALSE,” wrote Cruz on Twitter. “No power company should get a godsend because of a natural disaster, and Texans shouldn’t be pounded by ridiculous rate increases for last week’s energy disaster. State and local regulators should act quickly to prevent this injustice.”

Separately, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has made civil inquiries on utility companies regarding the outages, contingency plans and prices, stating that the companies “grossly mistreated” the weather emergency.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday endorsed a statement of major disaster for Texas, which will provide federal funds to those affected by the storm, including assistance for temporary repairs to homes and homes, as well as cheap loans.

All power plants were back online that weekend and most households had electricity again when the weather returned to normal.

Entergy Corp. (NYSE 🙂 announced late Sunday that the Texas unit had restored power to all customers affected by the winter storms. Austin Energy’s website also revealed that “almost all customers” have been restored to electricity.

However, water supply concerns remain and millions of Texans are advised to boil water before using it. Houston officials said the city’s water will be safe without boiling as of Sunday.

The Texas National Guard and service members from several states helped deliver and distribute bottled water to Texans in need, Abbott said.

Texas is also bringing plumbers from overseas to help repair broken pipes, the governor said. Homeowners or renters who are not insured may be able to apply for reimbursement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), he said.

The Texas governor separately said on Twitter that the state will receive nearly a million COVID-19 vaccine doses in the coming week, adding that Texas will make up for the delays caused during the winter storm.

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