Following a devastating winter storm, in the midst of a pandemic and economic strife, families in Texas, especially those with variable-rate power plans, are now facing astronomical utility bills.

By Maressa Brown
February 22, 2021
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Credit: Getty Images.

As if facing widespread power outages, disrupted water service, and even weather-related fatalities as a result of a devastating winter storm—all in the midst of a pandemic and economic downturn—wasn't enough, some families in Texas are now facing astronomical utility bills. People who had power, even intermittently, are being charged thousands of dollars for the electricity they used during the storm.

NPR reports that people who have variable-rate power plans, many with the company Griddy, are suffering the most. The cost of electricity on these plans will vary based on demand—the idea being that when weather conditions are normal, you might be able to use a lot more power for a low cost. But last week's storm led to a huge spike in demand and therefore, the wholesale cost of electricity.

Griddy pointed the finger at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the vast majority of the state's grid, and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, according to NPR. The utility commission ordered ERCOT to allow prices to increase to reflect the lack of supply. While the average price for electricity in Texas this time of year is roughly 12 cents per killowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the regulators allowed the price to soar to $9 per kilowatt-hour.

The energy company reportedly urged customers to switch to a different electricity provider, but that can take days, and in turn, families who were already struggling to put food on the table—a disproportionate number of whom are people of color and live in low-income communities—are concerned about paying exorbitant bills.

One customer, @katandtonyT, shared that she lives in a 1300 square feet home, had her heat set at 60, didn't use her laundry or dishwasher, or stove. She did use her air fryer, but her lights were off during the day and she used candles at night and had the TV on occasionally. Her bill for February 1 to 19 came to $5K.

Other residents, like a mom and essential worker who makes $10/hour and brothers who are veterans, have set up GoFundMes to pay for their bills.

Now, both Griddy and local politicians are currently vowing to make the situation right for customers. In a blog post, the electricity provider's leaders wrote, "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."

And Congressman Joaquin Castro tweeted that Texan families "should not be on the hook for the poor planning" of state officials.

It's possible that overcharged Texans might get relief from state and federal government. Late last week, KHOU reported that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he is launching an investigation to look into how ERCOT handled power outages, emergency plans, and energy pricing.

And on Sunday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he will work with state lawmakers to address skyrocketing energy bills and "find ways that the state can help reduce this burden," reports the AP. The same day, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul told CNN that federal emergency funds will be used to help some residents pay their bills.

Until the government steps in, you can support Texan families by donating to grassroots organizations like Mutual Aid HoustonDFW Mutual AidAustin Mutual AidPara Mi GenteFeed the People DTXTrinity Mutual Aid, and many other mutual aid funds across the state.

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