March 4, 2021

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His Lights Stayed on During Texas’s Storm. Now He Owes $16,752

SAN ANTONIO—As millions of Texans shivered in dark, cold homes over the
past week while a winter storm devastated the state's power grid and froze
natural gas production, those who could still summon lights with the flick
of a switch felt lucky.

Now, many of them are paying a severe price for it.

“My savings is gone,'' said Scott Willoughby, a 63-year-old Army veteran
who lives on Social Security payments in a Dallas suburb. He said he had
nearly emptied his savings account so that he would be able to pay the
$16,752 electric bill charged to his credit card—70 times what he usually
pays for all of his utilities combined.  “There's nothing I can do about
it, but it's broken.''

Mr. Willoughby is among scores of Texans who have reported skyrocketing
electric bills as the price of keeping lights on and refrigerators humming
shot upward. For customers whose electricity prices are not fixed and are
instead tied to the fluctuating wholesale price, the spikes have been

The outcry elicited angry calls for action from lawmakers from both parties
and prompted Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to hold an emergency meeting
with legislators on Saturday to discuss the enormous bills.  [...]

Under some of the plans, when demand increases, prices rise. The goal,
architects of the system say, is to balance the market by encouraging
consumers to reduce their usage and power suppliers to create more

But when last week's crisis hit and power systems faltered, the state's
Public Utilities Commission ordered that the price cap be raised to its
maximum limit of $9 per kilowatt-hour, easily pushing many customers' daily
electric costs above $100. And in some cases, like Mr. Willoughby's bills
rose by more than 50 times the normal cost.  [...]

Many of the people who have reported extremely high charges, including
Mr. Willoughby, are customers of Griddy, a small company in Houston that
provides electricity at wholesale prices, which can quickly change based on
supply and demand.

The company passes the wholesale price directly to customers, charging an
additional $9.99 monthly fee. Much of the time, the rate is considered
affordable. But the model can be risky: Last week, foreseeing a huge jump in
wholesale prices, the company encouraged all of its customers—about
29,000 people—to switch to another provider when the storm arrived. But
many were unable to do so.

Katrina Tanner, a Griddy customer who lives in Nevada, Texas, said she had
been charged $6,200 already this month, more than five times what she paid
in all of 2020. She began using Griddy at a friend's suggestion a couple of
years ago and was pleased at the time with how simple it was to sign up.

The money quote—literally:

William W. Hogan, considered the architect of the Texas energy market
design, said in an interview this past week that the high prices reflected
the market performing as it was designed.

Welcome to TX.