Texas Public Utility Commission discusses ending ‘no disconnect’ order

The Texas Public Utility Commission is considering ending a ‘no disconnect’ order, possibly as soon as June 11. That order was put in place as millions of Texans saw their homes freeze due to our power grid’s failure.

PUC Commissioners said they want to avoid customers falling into a financial hole they can’t dig out of, but residents still recovering from the storm say it’s too soon to end the order.

“Financially, it’s been hard,” said resident Marcus Ogletree.

Ogletree is slowly getting his Pleasantville house back together after a loss of power during the storm caused pipes to rupture.

“A lot of people still suffering, still trying to get their house repaired,” he said.

The PUC recognized the hardship many Texans were facing because of our power grid’s failures, including massive spikes in energy prices. That’s why the PUC issued a ‘no disconnect’ order to prevent utilities from being cut off due to lack of payment.

However, a memo written by PUC Commissioner Will McAdams outlines why the order should end on June 11.

“There are better resources available to ratepayers to assist with unpaid utility bills than the moratorium currently provides,” wrote McAdams.

McAdams further said that residents currently taking advantage of the moratorium could fall even further behind when other moratoriums kick in during the brutal heat of summer.

“In some cases, these liabilities could amount to seven months of overdue bills before the Commission may be able to readdress the issue in the fall,” he wrote.

“Tough balance between taking care of consumers, but also ensuring continuity of business operations for our reps,” PUC Chairman Peter Lake said during Thursday’s meeting.

Fifth Ward resident Delores McGruder is on a fixed income and said the PUC has to understand there are many residents, not only recovering from the winter storm but also a loss of work and savings during the pandemic.

“June 11th, no, that’s too soon,” said McGruder. “Give us a chance. Let us live. Let us help our children.”

During Thursday’s PUC meeting, officials from The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs testified it has funds available to help residents keep the lights on urged customers to apply now. You can apply for utility and rental assistance here at TexasRentRelief.com, or by calling 833-9TX-RENT / 833-989-7368.

Galveston, Brazoria and Harris County residents can also apply for utility assistance through Baker Ripley. Visit here.

The legislature did pass bills that would allow electric providers and natural gas companies to issue bonds to pay off debts incurred during the storm, but lawmakers faced criticism more wasn’t done to directly help Texans.

“The lieutenant governor wanted more to be done, but we ran out of time,” said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) District 7.

Bettencourt argued debates over other bills, like voting rights, chewed up a lot of time.

State Representative Gene Wu (D) District 137 was more critical. He said while some bills will help correct the problems that caused this mess, Texas didn’t go nearly far enough.

“It’s a good show but it’s not really the reforms that we actually need,” said Wu.

The PUC will discuss whether to end the ‘no disconnect’ order during its June 11 meeting.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”