AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Senate passed a bill that could help reduce overcharges to electric companies during last month's winter storm.
Senate Bill 2142 directs the Public Utility Commission to order the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to reassess prices, which in some cases were being passed down to customers.
The bill was an emergency legislative item from Gov. Greg Abbott. Monday, the Senate took up the bill, passed it, and sent it to the House.
"Don’t panic. Some people are getting very high bills for their individual or business, don’t panic," said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, speaking to Texans who were sent bills for thousands to millions of dollars following widespread power outages during the winter freeze in February.
"We’re going to step up and help these ratepayers at some level and we’re not going to let it wipe them out," Patrick said.
The lieutenant governor held a briefing Monday to announce the Texas Senate has already made the first move to correct overcharges by ERCOT from that week of severe winter weather.
"So what the Senate has done today, is to tell the PUC, 'In case you were confused, it is not illegal, you shall order ERCOT to do this reassessment of prices to correct the errors and move forward,'" said Sen. Joan Huffman, R- Houston.
ERCOT, which oversees the Texas power grid, allowed the maximum price of $9,000 per megawatt-hour to be charged for days, overbilling electricity providers an estimated $16 billion dollars. Those charges, senators worry, will be passed down to customers.
Some Texans have been reporting energy bills in the thousands following the power outages, with one Arlington family reporting a bill of $17,000 for three meters over five days of use. The surge in pricing is mostly affecting those who have chosen to pay wholesale prices for their power, which is typically cheaper than paying fixed rates during good weather but can spike when there’s a high demand for electricity.
Many of those who have reported receiving large bills are customers of electricity provider Griddy, which only operates in Texas. ERCOT announced in late February that it revoked Griddy’s right to operate, citing a payment breach in a notice posted online.
"What happened that week, which we will never forget, was wrong. Folks shivering in their homes, the unspeakable stories we continue to hear... What would be even worse, would be for us to allow a mistake to compound that by costing billions of dollars to ratepayers. That week was bad enough," said state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola.
On Monday, in a 27-to-3 bipartisan vote, senators approved the bill and sent a clear message to the PUC, which oversees ERCOT.
"The PUC chair told us that he had sort of flip-flopped on the issue. He agonized over it, over the decision of whether or not he should request ERCOT to do this or order ERCOT to do this, and then he told us, 'Well, I don’t think I can do it because it’s illegal,'" Huffman said.
Patrick said the move has been done before and is not illegal. He now hopes Abbott will encourage the House to pass the bill and then quickly sign it into law.
"I believe the governor wants to do it, and all of these issues are going to end up in court at some level anyway, but if we can at least correct this it’s a good start to do the right thing," said Patrick.
Senators said they will next look at other fixes, like reforming ERCOT.