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AARP AARP States Texas Advocacy

Amid Extreme Heat, AARP Texas Urges PUC To Suspend Power Disconnections

It’s a dangerously hot summer in Texas and there’s no sign of the extreme temperatures letting up soon. Survival in this weather means reliance on air conditioning in homes. And for many Texans, especially older folks on fixed incomes, that comes with utility bills that are hard to afford.

Now is absolutely not the time for utility providers to disconnect electric service of residences for payment shortfalls. That’s why AARP Texas joined the Texas Consumer Association in asking the Public Utility Commission to suspend its current extreme weather disconnection rules as well as to stop disconnecting electric service due to past-due bills until at least Sept. 15.

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The groups first filed an emergency petition in mid-July with the PUC. The request also asked the PUC to direct the transmission and distribution utilities and retail electric providers around Texas to report how many current electric accounts have been disconnected for lack of payment and update those reports weekly through at least November.

With the PUC failing to act on the matter, the groups are renewing their request to state utility regulators. This time, the groups are providing the PUC with a list of names of more than 7,700 AARP activists throughout the state who have told AARP they support the emergency petition request.

“We collectively believe it’s a matter of public safety,” said Stephanie Mace, an associate state director of advocacy and outreach at AARP Texas. “Living in low-quality, inefficient housing with no air conditioning or refrigeration for food and medicine could be a death sentence for seniors, young children, medically vulnerable citizens, and others…An electricity disconnection moratorium is a key provision for public health and safety.”

Currently, as noted in the AARP petition, the PUC’s disconnection rule for extreme weather applies on a utility-specific basis and is tied to specific days, such as when a National Weather Service heat advisory is in place or has been for two days.

AARP contends that this rule makes it difficult for customers to know when a local disconnection ban is in effect and impossible to predict when the ban might be lifted and the power could be shut off. A specific end date on the moratorium, such as AARP’s suggested Sept. 15, could reduce uncertainty and enable budget planning for bill repayment.

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While most of Texas is covered by the electricity grid run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the petition to the PUC would impact all four grids in the Lone Star State, including the Southwest Power Pool that covers the Texas Panhandle and South Plains, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator that services southeast Texas, and the Western Electricity Coordinating Council in the El Paso area.

The outcome of the emergency petition remains to be seen, but Mace said there are disconcerting signs of trouble for many Texans. She said messages have been sent out by ERCOT that disconnections due to non-payment resumed in at least 73 Texas counties on Aug. 16 and then resumed eight hours later in the majority of the counties.

“While these communities have experienced some relief with temperatures in the 90s, these temperatures are still hot and can be harmful,” Mace said.

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