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Gov. Greg Abbott said he and other state leaders are working fast to find solutions for homeowners and renters facing steep electricity bills after a winter storm left many Texans without power for days.
After Abbott convened what his office described as an "emergency meeting" Saturday with lawmakers to discuss the issue, the Public Utility Commission on Sunday met to sign two orders, including one that would direct energy providers to temporarily stop disconnecting customers from power or water because they have not paid.
The commission also signed an order to stop companies from sending invoices or bill estimates to customers “until we work through issues of how we are going to financially manage the situation we are in,” commission Chair DeAnn Walker said.
“Disconnect for non pays cannot occur on a Sunday and that’s why we're acting today at this hour... trying to stop any from occurring tomorrow,” Walker said before the three-member commission approved the orders.
Both Abbott and the commission's meetings come as more Texans are reporting receiving exorbitant electric bills despite not having power during the storm. One Texan, according to The New York Times, received a $16,752 electric bill. Not every resident will see the spikes in their bills.
Abbott, speaking during a news conference Sunday in San Antonio, called the recent spike in energy bills "the top priority for the Texas Legislature right now" and said lawmakers were working on a bipartisan basis to help address the issue.
February Winter Storm 2021
When will my water come back? How can I get water in the meantime?
We do not know. State and city officials are urging patience — and telling Texans who have running water to boil it. Take whatever measures you need to prepare for several days without water. Officials in Austin, for example, said Feb. 19 that restoring water services would likely be a multiday process for the whole city. We have some resources here, but your best bet to find free water is to check your local media.
Will I get a large energy bill?
You shouldn’t immediately. Texas officials have signed an order temporarily preventing electricity providers from sending bills to residents. The order is a stopgap measure to give officials time to address a spike in some residents' bills. Officials also signed an order to stop utility providers from cutting off service to residents who haven’t paid a bill. Read more here.
How can I get updates?
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I was without power for more than a day. Why are people calling these rolling outages?
When the state’s electrical grid operator began implementing rolling outages at 1:25 a.m. CT on Feb. 15, these were intended to be a temporary measure to deal with an extreme winter event.
Instead, some Texans are going without power for much longer, facing days without electricity instead of the originally planned 45 minutes at a time
The electricity grid was designed to be in high demand during the summer, when Texans crank their air conditioning at home. But some of the energy sources that power the grid during the summer are offline during the winter. So when Texans stayed home during the storm on Sunday and demanded record amounts of electricity, the state’s power grid could not keep up.
Wait, we have our own power grid? Why?
Yes, Texas has its own power grid run by an agency called ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The history is long, but the short version is: Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with federal regulations. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which charged the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate electricity sales. But Texas’ utilities do not cross state lines. ERCOT was formed in 1970, in the wake of a major blackout in the Northeast in November 1965, and it was tasked with managing grid reliability in accordance with national standards.
Note that Texas is not all on this same power grid. El Paso is on another grid, as is the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas.
I read online that wind turbines are the reason we lost power. Is that true?
No. The lost wind power makes up only a fraction of the reduction in power-generating capacity that has brought outages to millions of Texans.
An official with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said on February 16 that 16 gigawatts of renewable energy generation, mostly wind generation, were offline. Nearly double that, 30 gigawatts, had been lost from thermal sources, which includes gas, coal and nuclear energy.
“Texas is a gas state,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now.”
How can I stay warm? How can I help others?
The National Weather Service encourages people to close blinds and curtains, gather in one room if possible and close doors to others, and stuff towels in the cracks under the doors. Wear loose-fitting layers of warm, lightweight clothing. Eating snacks and staying hydrated will help to warm the body up. Some cities are providing warming centers and transportation as needed — find local resources here. If you have resources or are able to offer financial donations, find nonprofits who are helping people here.
See more coverage
Along with Abbott, the heads of the Senate and House — Republicans Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan, respectively — were also part of that Saturday meeting, as were chairs of the budget-writing Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees, among others.
Later this week, House and Senate committees will convene to investigate how outages happened and what roles entities like the Electric Reliability Council of Texas played in those power failures.
"Thursday begins the questioning of the stakeholders involved to find out if anything went wrong, what went wrong, who's to blame and, more importantly, what solutions moving forward we can do as a state Legislature ... to make sure this absolutely never happens again," said state Rep. Craig Goldman, a Fort Worth Republican who chairs the House Energy Resources Committee, during an NBC-DFW interview that aired Sunday.
Jolie McCullough contributed to this report.
Disclosure: New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.