Texas gas bills may increase, companies allowed to make up winter storm losses

There is a good chance your gas bill may go up in the coming months. 

On Nov. 10, the Texas Railroad Commission approved a settlement agreement with eight different natural gas companies. It allows them to directly pass the cost of the February winter storm to consumers.

"These gas companies and gas suppliers were charging hundreds more than what they usually do. We should be able to go to them and push for taxes, investment from some of these biggest corporations so the bill doesn’t keep getting paid by the everyday taxpayer," said Greg Casar, Austin City Council District Four.

The idea was to get the impact spread out over several bills, that way customers aren't hit dramatically on one big bill, but Casar, who is also running for Congress, said the commission is putting the responsibility on the wrong people.

"Some of the people responsible for the failure of the electric grid, those people should be chipping in their piece too. We should be seeing ratepayer relief," he said.

Texas Gas Service, which serves Austin customers released this statement to FOX 7 that said: 

"At this time, we don't know what the customer bill impact will be. The railroad commission now has 90 days to issue a financing order which instructs the Texas Public Finance Authority to issue bonds. After that, the Texas Public Financing Agency has 180 days to issue the bonds. As this process unfolds, the timing and the rate charged to customers will be determined."

"Certainly for many Austinites, their utility bill is already something that is a burden so seeing higher costs at any level is really going to put them in a bind," said Kathie Tovo, Austin City Council, District Nine.

As for Austin Energy and Austin Water, Austin customers need not worry about rate hikes there. 

As a matter of fact, Casar credited Austin Energy for its work during the crisis. "Austin Energy was able to keep some of our plants that were winterized going, to help keep the lights on in other parts of the state," said Casar.

"What we're also seeing at the railroad commission and what we are also seeing from state officials, is them trying to let some of these gas suppliers off the hook from actually having to invest and winterize their plants," said Casar.

CenterPoint Energy estimates its customers would only see about a $2.50 to $5 a month increase. This is not to say all the other companies are going by those same numbers. Regardless of the amount, Casar feels customers shouldn’t foot the bill at all.

The chairman of the TRRC released this statement to FOX 7 Austin:

With or without HB 1520, natural gas utilities are legally able to seek reimbursement from customers for the gas they purchased during the storm. They are not allowed to mark up or profit from the sale of the gas. HB 1520 securitizes the high cost of gas to protect consumers from unexpectedly high gas bills by financing this reimbursement over a long period of time.

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