By Bill Oakey – March 8, 2021
While you and your neighbors were freezing in the dark for several days in February, you probably wondered if you could trust the “powers that be” to straighten out the big, ugly mess. Fast forward to Friday March 5. We learned that ERCOT, the team that manages the Texas power grid, kept the maximum price allowable for electricity for 32 hours past the end of the storm. So, for a day and a half, Texas electric utilities were overcharged to the tune of $16 billion. During the full period of the maximum pricing, including the overcharge period, utilities were charged $9.00 per kilowatt hour. That is 75 times the normal winter rate, according to NPR News.
How much do Texas ratepayers stand to lose in this shameful debacle?
Here’s the simple math. This is based on very rough averages, but it will give you the basic perspective:
- $16 billion billing error divided by 29 million residents of Texas = $552.00 for every man, woman and child in the state.
- $552.00 times 1 million Austin residents = $552 million lost to Austin ratepayers
- $552.00 times 2 million Austin metro residents = $1.1 billion lost to the Austin Metro
Surely, the Texas Public Utility Commission would order those overcharges to be paid back. Right?
Like Trying To Unscramble An Egg?
On Friday March 5, Mr. Arthur D’Andrea, the new PUC Chair, who just replaced the ousted former Chair, tried to explain their decision NOT to correct the overcharges. “It’s just nearly impossible to unscramble this sort of egg,” he proclaimed. Then he did an artful Texas two-step to dance around the issue. In doing so, he left a big boatload of unanswered questions:
- Are there procedures in place to guard against keeping prices high beyond the conclusion of a power emergency?
- Is there a written policy regarding if, when and how the related overcharges should be corrected? If not, why not, and will such a policy be forthcoming?
- Who all is responsible for monitoring the fluctuating electricity prices?
- What specifically were the various breakdowns in procedures that led to the February overcharges?
- Are there any penalties placed upon employees for actions or inactions that can lead to these types of overcharges? If not, will there be some in the future?
- What is the historical record of previous overcharges similar to these?
- What specific steps can be taken to prevent these overcharges from happening again?
- Do any State laws or regulations need to be revised or new ones written to authorize and mandate that these type overcharges be corrected?
- Does the Governor have emergency authority or any other powers to make this happen? If not, can political pressure be applied?
- How long has it been since ERCOT and the PUC have been audited by the State Auditor?
- Are there any reports showing whether or to what extent these agencies have followed previous audit recommendations?
- Who will be the first State leader to demand that the overcharges be paid back, ask for revised procedures for both agencies, and request new State audits.
- Have you ever heard of any business or agency, public or private, that has ever even suggested not correcting a $12 BILLION billing error??!!
The biggest question – Why do we have such a screwball system? A convenience store owner could face civil penalties up to $10,000 per violation for price gouging. And yet the electric power suppliers get away with it. A bunch of fat cats are now laughing all the way to the bank! For the wonks among you, here’s the scoop on how ERCOT works. This article is from April, 2019. The warning signs were flashing, as they have been for a very long time.
Humpty Dumpty – Texas Style
By Bil Oakey
Humpty Dumpty fell from a tower
That ERCOT assigned to bring us all power
None of the bureaucrats and none of their friends
Could put Humpty back together again
So they gathered his innards and tossed ’em in a bowl
And scrambled him up, unaware of the toll
Try as they may, and try as they might
Those buffoons just couldn’t get anything right
They overcharged Texans by $16 billion
How’s that for relief from the freeze and the chillin’?
You can’t unscramble this sort of egg
Said the PUC Chairman – was he pulling our leg?
The Texans I know are smart and tough
We won’t put up with that kind of guff
Charging 75 times the normal rate
Is no way to run the Lone Star State!
Humpty Dumpty will not be forgotten
By now the poor fellow is probably rotten
It’s time for our leaders to stand up and be counted
There’s a big hill to climb, but it must be surmounted
Anyone who reads this should contact their State Representative’s office and their State Senator to ask for an end to the insanity surrounding our electric power grid and the lack of common-sense regulations.
Check out this amazing, but unverified YouTube video on how to unscramble an egg.
A Blast From My Past
My days of consumer activism began in the 1980’s. As a member of Austin’s Electric Utility Commission, I fought many electric rate battles. Here is one of my letters to the editor in the Austin American-Statesman. The last line became my slogan:
Isn’t it interesting how many words in the English language have more than one meaning? Take, for example the, word “bill.” Birds have bills. The Legislature passes bills. Entertainers are listed on bills. But the worst kind of bill is the kind you have to pay, like an Austin electric bill. Well, I have a very simple message. My name is Bill, and I would like to lower yours.
Musical accompaniment for this blog piece:
1.Humpty Dumpty Heart – Hank Thompson (original 1947 version)
2. Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog – Johnny Cash (live from Folsom Prison)
3. Four Strong Winds – Bobby Bare
4. The Blizzard – Jim Reeves
5. Storms Never Last – Dottsy
6. I Am The Walrus – The Beatles
7. Texas Two-Step – Vance Lane
8. Take The Money and Run – Steve Miller Band