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Financial fallout from the February freeze: How proposed Texas bills could have you paying more

More financial fallout is likely on the way for utility customers in the wake of the February freeze
Posted at 8:11 AM, Jun 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-02 11:13:35-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — More financial fallout is likely on the way for utility customers in the wake of the February freeze that gripped Texas.

This comes after state lawmakers passed sweeping legislation over the weekend in the wake of the wicked weather that paralyzed the state leaving nearly 5 million homes and businesses without power and water for days and more than 100 people dead.

The bills passed by the Texas Senate and House would require power plants to be weatherized and ERCOT board members to be chosen by politicians. All this while electric, power, and gas companies are expected to get billions in ratepayer back bonds and loans. That has many asking the question - will there be a ratepayer ripoff?

I asked Tim Morstad, a consumer advocate for AARP Texas, if the lack of power and water due to cold weather should have happened in the first place.

"Oh, it never should've happened. Our system failed on so many different levels," Morstad told me.

Morstad has been advocating for Texas utility ratepayers for two decades raising questions about deregulation, high prices, and the system's reliability.

"It's really about putting Humpty Dumpty back together again and we did that on some fronts but we also missed," Morstad said. "We left some stuff on the table."

We then wanted to know who would pay to put Humpty Dumpty back together.

"The ratepayers are," Morstad said. "At the end of the day, there's going to be increased cost and they're going to flow through to ratepayers one way or another."

Morstad says the total amounts are expected to be anywhere from $3 billion to $5 billion and upwards of $10 billion for natural gas.

So how much does that mean for you?

"For residential customers, it could be several dollars per month," Morstad said. "It could be a bit more than that. But you really have to consider that's across the millions and millions of repairs paying that additional amount every month for decades."

Morstad added, "It's a lot of money and it's going to be paid back from repairs over decades. This is a generational thing that we're going to be shifting onto our kids."

While Morstad does see small steps being taken, he says it's not enough.

Ratepayers, he says, will wind up paying as companies pass the buck to the consumer.

"They didn't create the system that failed us, so asking ratepayers to step up and open their pocketbooks to prop up the system that failed us is a real slap in the face," Morstad said.

And if you haven't felt any financial effects, then you should prepare yourself for your utility bills to go up, Morstad said.

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