After weathering power and water outages and broken pipes, many downtown Texans now face their next fear: What will their electric bill look like after all this?
As some Texans are reporting sky-high bills, customers at the region’s three largest electricity providers – Austin Energy, Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative and Pedernales Electric Cooperative – shouldn’t see such a spike, officials said.
In a statement to customers, Austin Energy explained that those affected by major bill spikes see electric tariffs controlled by variable price billing and are therefore vulnerable to sudden fluctuations in wholesale market energy prices.
“In contrast, 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,” 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 period had no recorded power consumption from the meters during these outage events. Austin Energy customers are only billed for the energy consumed and will be billed at existing rates,” states the press release.
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Bluebonnet, Pedernales customers will also avoid huge spikes
Bluebonnet and the Pedernales have delivered similar messages to their customers.
“Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative’s electric rates will not increase due to the extreme weather conditions in February in the same way some Texans will experience media reports,” the electric service provider said. “Bluebonnet has power supply contracts in place to protect our members from price volatility in the ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) wholesale electricity market.
However, Bluebonnet added that extremely cold temperatures during the historic February cold snap caused members to use more electricity than they would during a normal February.
“Therefore, members should expect to see electricity bills similar to those they normally see during the hot summer months, such as July and August,” Bluebonnet said.
Pedernales said that while the base load rate during the recent storm will not change, rates could still increase due to the amount of power consumed.
“Keep in mind that heating your home in cold weather can result in higher than normal energy use,” Pedernales said.
Why some in Texas see huge bills
Soaring prices are hitting people who have chosen to pay wholesale prices for their electricity, which is usually cheaper than paying fixed tariffs in good weather, but can soar when there is high demand for electricity. ‘electricity. Many of those who have reported receiving large bills are customers of utility company Griddy, which only operates in Texas.
Griddy, which launched in 2017, charges $ 10 per month to give people a way to pay wholesale electricity prices instead of a fixed rate. He warned customers of the price increase and urged them to switch suppliers. The company said wholesale prices returned to normal on February 20.
Among the affected customers is Susan Hosford of Denison, Texas. On a typical February day, she pays Griddy less than $ 2.50 for electricity. But the cost of a day hit hundreds of dollars after the storm. In all, she was automatically billed $ 1,346.17 for the first two weeks of February, which was more than what she had in her checking account, forcing her bank to charge her overdraft fees and assign other invoices.
“It has all been a nightmare,” she says.
Variable pricing makes sense for some customers
Dave Tuttle, energy expert and researcher at the University of Texas, said most customers who have a variable pricing option choose stable plans.
“It’s part of what retail customers pay utilities to do: to be the middleman and manage risk,” Tuttle said. “And a large majority of retail customers choose more stable plans. But about 29,000 people in ERCOT’s competitive retail areas have chosen Griddy out of more than 25 million ERCOT customers.”
The variable pricing makes sense for some customers, Tuttle said, “Let’s say you’re a rancher and have a lot of water to pump into the storage tanks. You can just turn it off when the price goes up. You have to watch for it. turn off your load. “
That’s why the solution isn’t to eliminate the variable pricing option, he said. The answer is not a warrant that says, ‘We’re going to come in and the nanny declares you and you can’t have that choice. “You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Governor Greg Abbott has vowed to curb price abuse. On Saturday, he met with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan and members of the legislature to discuss the skyrocketing electricity bills that some Texans are starting to see.
“We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are the result of harsh 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 don’t end up with skyrocketing energy bills. . “
The Associated Press contributed to this report.