Texas regulators on Sunday issued a moratorium on utility disconnections for customers who do not pay their power bills, following a spike in power prices that impacted millions of customers across the state who were without power for days last week.
The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) held an emergency meeting Sunday, following one between Gov. Greg Abbott, R, and the state legislature on Saturday, to address the billing spikes that had customers charged up to 70 times more than what they would normally pay for electricity.
Sunday's orders apply specifically to customers of investor-owned utilities, not electric power cooperatives or municipal utilities that do not fall under the PUCT's jurisdiction. Chair DeAnn Walker said the order would be temporary — until financial logistics are figured out, which she hopes will be "soon." Texas retail electric providers were also ordered to continue the commission's COVID-19 suspension order which requires them to offer deferred payment plans to customers when requested.
Walker held the emergency meeting from the still-dark PUCT building Sunday, and the other two commissioners, calling in virtually, agreed with her decision to suspend disconnections.
"There are efforts ongoing to try to figure out how to address the financial needs of the market," said Walker during the meeting, "but most certainly the first and foremost is addressing the financial situation of the customers."
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) ended emergency conditions on Friday, following almost a week of rolling outages across the state, triggered by "unprecedented" winter conditions that led to a spike in demand and a constrained supply of electricity early last week. But customers began reporting "skyrocketing" energy bills last week after regulators ordered ERCOT to bring electricity prices to its cap of $9,000/MWh to reflect scarcity conditions.
In response to immediate ratepayer concerns, Abbott met with a bipartisan group of legislators to discuss how to proceed, though the meeting did not yield a permanent plan.
"Today's meeting was productive, and I applaud Republican and Democrat members of the Legislature for putting aside partisan politics to work together on this challenge," 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 do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills."
Millions of Texans were also under a boil water notice last week, as the power outages prevented water suppliers from operating their treatment plants. As of Saturday morning, 1,445 public water systems had reported disruptions in service. According to the governor's office, around 3.4 million bottles of water were delivered to Texans over the weekend.
President Joe Biden on Friday declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Texas, and directed federal assistance to supplement local and state recovery efforts, including temporary housing and home repair grants as well as low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, among other measures.
As of Monday afternoon, just under 17,000 customers were without power.