As the Texas power grid collapsed in a historic winter storm, Jose Del Rio of Haltom City, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, saw the electric bill for a vacant two-bedroom home he is trying to sell slowly climbing over the past couple of years. weeks. Typically, the bill is around $ 125 to $ 150 per month, he said. But his account has already been debited by around $ 630 this month – and he still owes another $ 2,600.
“If the worst comes to the worst, I have the ability to put it on a credit card or find something,” Del Rio said. “60 because I don’t want the pipes to freeze.
When he contacted Griddy, his electric company, they advised him to change suppliers, Del Rio said.
Griddy’s prices are controlled by the market and are therefore vulnerable to sudden fluctuations in demand. With the extreme weather conditions, energy use skyrocketed, pushing wholesale electricity prices to over $ 9,000 per megawatt hour, compared to the seasonal average of $ 50 per megawatt hour.
Faced with soaring costs, Griddy urged consumers to consider temporarily switching electricity providers to save on their bills.
Griddy did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
The Texas Electric Reliability Council, or ERCOT, which manages power for about 90% of the state’s electrical load, was unprepared for the frigid conditions of the past two weeks: the main power grid was struck by an extraordinary demand for electricity. as Texans tried to heat their homes – a demand that exceeded the highest estimates by utility officials for extreme peak load.
“I take responsibility for the current status of ERCOT,” Governor Greg Abbott told reporters on Thursday.
Customers outside of the ERCOT service area were also hit with sticker shock. Veronica Garcia, a client of Reliant Energy in Mansfield, Texas, told NBC News that her bill should be twice as much as she typically pays a month for electricity. She last paid $ 63 on February 11 to power her one-bedroom apartment, but her bill is expected to be between $ 114 and $ 133 in March, according to documents reviewed by NBC News.
His house had no electricity for about three hours early Tuesday morning. But since the storm hit, she doesn’t use a lot of energy. She left her apartment on Tuesday to stay with her stepmother because of the cold.
“I hope if they are decent they won’t charge people for it because we had no control over the situation,” said Garcia, who is an administrative associate at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “I hope I can beat the charges and they do the right thing.”
Reliant Energy spokeswoman Megan Talley told NBC News it offers flexible bill payment options to help customers affected by the storm. He said customers should contact the company directly “so that we can work with them through this difficult time.”
Oncor Electric Delivery, which distributes wholesale electricity for Reliant Energy, did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
Texas laws protect consumers from companies operating natural disasters for profit, but it is not clear whether these laws can be extended to protect electrical customers slapped with large bills, said Keegan Warren-Clem, an attorney. charge of the nonprofit Texas Legal Services Center.
Federal programs such as the Low-Income Housing Energy Assistance Program could protect energy customers who qualify for the high fees, she said. If they do not qualify for the federal program, a client can look into billing assistance programs through charities or churches, she said.
“There are limited options available in the absence of state-level action to provide consistent relief,” Warren-Clem said.
Customers may be able to work with their credit card issuers on a plan to cover the bill over time, said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at LendingTree. He said credit card companies have become more flexible with borrowers during the pandemic.
“The last thing a lot of people need right now is a higher electric bill – and sadly that’s something a lot of people will get stuck with,” Schulz said.
Royce Pierce and his wife, Danielle, who live in Willow Park, west of Dallas, have seen their electric bills climb nearly $ 10,000 in recent days for their three-bedroom home. While the family told NBC News they consider themselves lucky because they have the power, the financial burden has come with additional challenges.
Since the family is on a variable rate plan with Griddy, the company automatically debits the bill as they use electricity. Danielle said she closed the debit card connected to their electric bill because Griddy erased it. The family are using separate accounts and credit cards to pay for necessities as the storm continues.
“We hope there will be some relief,” Royce said. “It’s something we can maybe skate and tackle over time, but how many people can’t?” A lot.”