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What state lawmakers could do to help those with high utility bills

State lawmakers are meeting this week in Austin to look into last week's power outages.
State lawmakers are meeting this week in Austin to look into last week's power outages.(KWTX)
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:52 PM CST
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AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) - Over the weekend, the Public Utility Commission of Texas temporarily banned utilities from disconnecting services to nonpaying customers and sending out bills to customers.

Those are two temporary measures the state took to shield unsuspecting customers who may have been blindsided by high utility bills while state lawmakers explore the issue this session.

It will be up to state lawmakers to come up with a more permanent solution this session.

“Whether it involves an appropriation, or whether it involves some sort of policy change or some sort of direction or policy given to retailers, I think that remains to be seen,” said state Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Killeen.

Shine said that he has seen a bill as high as $4,000 from last week.

“They were literally paying the market-capped rate for hour after hour after hour,” Shine said.

That is because, under a variable rate power plan, a customer is charged the market rate.

The severe supply shortage last week caused energy prices to skyrocket.

Mark Jones, an energy policy expert at Rice University, said he does not expect state lawmakers to forgive people’s utility bills using state funds.

“It’s very difficult to tell those people who signed up out of ignorance or those who were just trying to get a good deal,” Jones told KWTX.

He said it is more likely that utility companies will forgive the bills on their own in some cases.

“The number of people is small enough that it’s not worth the public relations nightmare or bad press to make a few thousand dollars,” Jones said.

Jones also predicts that lawmakers will look into possible legislation steering people away from variable rate plans in the future.

“One thing we’ll see is either a move to get rid of these variable rate plans or at least to place tighter regulations on them to avoid the extremes that we’re seeing right now,” Jones said.

State Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, told KWTX that he expects to learn much more about what state lawmakers can do after the public hearings on Thursday.

The House State Affairs and Energy Resources Committees will meet Thursday in Austin to investigate last week’s outages.

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