Texas is still recovering from the snowstorm that caused the state’s power grid to collapse and left millions without electricity during freezing weather. For days, millions of Texans lived without power, sufficient warmth, accessible roads or empathy from certain elected officials. (I’m looking at you Sen. Ted Cruz and former Colorado City Mayor Tim Boyd.)
Now, President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in the state, “making available a wider range of federal assistance to help those affected by the severe winter storm,” the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, the declaration allows “individuals and business owners in Texas to apply for federal emergency aid, including grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other recovery programs,” and hopefully the aid extends to Texans who now face electricity bills as high as $10,000 and even higher due to the storm it appears no one was ready for.
From NBC News:
As the Texas power grid collapsed under a historic winter storm, Jose Del Rio of Haltom City, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, saw the electricity bill on a vacant two-bedroom home he is trying to sell slowly creep up over the past two weeks. Typically, the bill is around $125 to $150 a month, he said. But his account has already been charged about $630 this month — and he still owes another $2,600.
“If worse comes to worst, I have the ability to put it on a credit card or figure something out,” Del Rio said. ”There is no one living in that house. All the lights are off. But I have the air at 60 because I don’t want the pipes to freeze.”
When he contacted Griddy, his electric company, they advised him to switch providers, Del Rio said.
Griddy’s prices are controlled by the market, and are therefore vulnerable to sudden swings in demand. With the extreme weather, energy usage has soared, pushing up wholesale power prices to more than $9,000 per megawatt hour — compared to the seasonal average of $50 per megawatt hour.
In the face of the soaring costs, Griddy has been directing consumers to consider temporarily switching electricity providers to save on their bills.
According to NBC, around 90 percent of Texas’ electricity is provided by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)—which has become the subject of much controversy because a lot of people seem to think Texas having its own non-federally regulated power grid has something to do with the disaster—but state residents both inside and outside of the ERCOT service area have reported electric bills that are as much as twice what they usually pay, and for some, the increase has been much higher.
According to The Hill, one Dallas resident told reporters that he usually pays around $660 in electric bills for his home, guest house and office, but he said his latest power bills exceeded $17,000 due to the storm. Another Dallas family said they saw the electric bill for their three-bedroom house reach close to $10,000 over the span of a few days.
An attorney for the Texas Legal Services Center, Keegan Warren-Clem, told NBC that there are “limited options available in the absence of action at the state level to provide consistent relief” such as bill assistance programs and federal programs for energy assistance, many of which serve low-income households. But Warren-Clem also noted that it’s unclear if Texas laws that protect residents from utility companies that exploit natural disasters for profit extend to folks who are receiving these ridiculously high electric bills due to the recent storm.
What has happened to millions of Texans—including the dozens who have died for reasons related to the disaster—has been an all-around catastrophe. Federal aid and any other kind of available assistance can’t come fast enough. Hopefully, measures are being taken in Texas that will ensure nothing like this ever happens again.