On Tuesday, March 2, AARP Texas and Texas Legal Services Center filed a formal request with the Public Utility Commission of Texas to provide immediate relief to Texas’ residential utility consumers who suffered during the February winter storm.
Millions were left without heat and power for days and millions more are being hit with unaffordable electrical bills, the consumer groups wrote.
In its request for emergency action, AARP Texas and Texas Legal Services Center blamed the crisis on the PUC’s failure to protect customers, the electric market’s reliance on price to ensure stability, and the failure of ERCOT to adequately plan for severe weather.
While permanent changes are needed to Texas’ utility market, AARP Texas and the Texas Legal Services Center said immediate actions are warranted on these and other fronts:
• An end to the sale and promotion of “variable-price” electricity plans to residential customers by retail electric providers;
• A ban on the charging of contract termination fees to customers who switch utility providers.
• A stop to so-called “switch holds” that keep customers in deferred payment plans from changing utility providers.
• A halt to any reporting of winter storm 2021 related debts to collection agencies or the filing of adverse credit reports.
The emergency action request to the PUC is signed by AARP Texas Director Tina Tran, and Austin attorney Randy Chapman and Carol Biedrzycki of Austin.
“While the immediate danger of outages from this event may be past, substantial harm to residential consumers will persist, absent action,” the request reads.
“This electricity emergency was in no way the fault of residential electricity customers, yet they’ve already paid an untold price,” the request continues. “Immediate action…will provide the first threads of a safety net and give consumers more tools to help themselves.”
In a statement regarding the letter, Karen Miller, executive director of Texas Legal Services, said the PUC must act to protect customers.
“Texans suffered during the storm, huddled together, desperate to keep warm,” Miller said. “We risked treacherous roads and possible exposure to Covid-19 to get to warming centers. We died in our cars, and in our homes. It was a nightmare and we can’t wake from it because we face new fears of unimaginable utility bills that we can’t possibly pay, and no faith in a deregulated utility system that’s been allowed to run wild, leaving Texas consumers in the cold, fending for ourselves.”
A copy of the emergency action request can be found here: https://aarp-states.brightspotcdn.com/82/09/de537fc24e12b3852d1dee2b12ad/puc-residential-consumer-request-for-emergency-actions.pdf
The Public Utility Commission of Texas has scheduled open meetings on Wednesday, March 3, and Friday, March 5, starting at 9:30 a.m. both days.
For more information about the request to the PUC or to speak with AARP Texas utilities expert Tim Morstad, contact Mark Hollis at 512.480.2429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.