Edited to include updates from Scott Willoughby and the Texas Office of the Attorney General.
Following this week’s winter storm and power crisis, North Texans are telling NBC 5 Responds about thousands of dollars in electricity charges.
Here’s what happened.
“It would take almost all my savings”
The latest news from around North Texas.
This week, NBC 5 Responds began hearing from customers who shared electric bill summaries from Griddy, a wholesale-retail electric provider showing charges that ranged from a few hundred dollars to as much as nearly $14,000.
Friday, Scott Willoughby shared his bill summary from Griddy showing charges of $13,926.89 for February. He says his home in Royce City is just over 3,000 square feet, but his family – like many others this week – was trying to conserve power.
“It would take almost all of my savings if I were to pay that bill,” said Willoughby.
By Saturday, Willoughby reached out to NBC 5 again with an updated bill.
"I had thought the one I sent was final," Willoughby wrote in an email. The new bill shows he owes $16,752.68.
The Army veteran launched a Go Fund Me page to help pay the bill.
Friday evening, the Texas Office of the Attorney General announced it has issued Civil Investigate Demands to ERCOT and 11 other power companies - including Griddy.
The demands ask Griddy to produce a number of documents, including those related to pricing, the company's increased costs during the winter storm and its communication with customers starting the week of February 14.
“I’m using the full scope of my Constitutional powers to launch an investigation into ERCOT and other entities that grossly mishandled this week’s extreme winter weather. While Texans pulled together to get their communities through this disaster, they were largely left in the dark,” said Attorney General Paxton in a news release shared on Friday. “We will get to the bottom of this power failure and I will tirelessly pursue justice for Texans.”
Variable rate plans
Griddy is a wholesale electric retail provider. It’s important to distinguish between the types of electric rate plans available to Texas customers.
There are fixed-rate plans, where customers wouldn’t expect the rate to change during a contract period.
There are also variable or indexed rate plans, which can see rates go up or down depending on the market.
Willoughby said he signed up for Griddy in November after moving to a new home. He says he was enticed by the $9.99 per month membership price in exchange for paying wholesale electric prices.
“For the first three or four months, I did save $80 to $100 a month going with Griddy. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine this was even a possibility,” said Willoughby.
Ahead of the storm, Griddy took the unusual step of asking its customers to switch to a fixed-rate plan with another company. It even provided instructions on how to switch.
“I started looking to try and find somebody to switch to, but everybody was seven to 10 days if they would take you at all,” said Willoughby.
Eventually, Willoughby said he found a provider that could take him on as a customer after a five-day waiting period.
“Based on the phone call we got, it was like, hey, it's going to be more expensive. They didn't tell us it was going to be 10 times what our normal bill is,” said Virginia Ward of Fort Worth.
Ward and her roommate, Hannah Arnold, are both college students. They said they also were able to sign up with another power company starting this Saturday, but not before facing more than $1,300 in charges.
“There’s no way we can pay it,” said Ward.
Susan Hilburn, 69, of Fort Worth said she didn’t even have power for 35 hours during this week’s disaster. She shared a bill summary from Griddy showing charges that surged to around $6,000.
“They offered me a five-month deferred payment plan, but even that would make it impossible for me to buy medications, insulin and groceries,” said Hilburn.
What Griddy has shared
NBC 5 Responds reached out to Griddy, but the company hasn’t replied directly. Its website says the company is experiencing high call volume.
In a post published on Thursday, Griddy laid the blame primarily on the Public Utility Commission of Texas for directing ERCOT to raise rates in an emergency meeting Monday.
The PUC’s order says energy prices should reflect the scarcity of supply. The PUC also says the order was necessary in order to release more electricity onto the grid during the power emergency.
Griddy’s website says, in part, “We intend to fight this for, and alongside, our customers for equity and accountability – to reveal why such price increases were allowed to happen as millions of Texans went without power.”
We asked the PUC about Griddy’s online statement Friday afternoon. We will update the story as we hear more from the PUC.
Earlier the PUC told NBC 5 Responds in an email, “The viewers you mention are not alone in their predicament. The wholesale rate-based plans you describe can be tantalizing to consumers when the sales emphasis is placed on the possibility of very low rates during times of pleasant weather, but they can be financially devastating when harsh hot or cold weather creates scarcity in the wholesale energy market.”
The PUC also said it encourages fixed-rate plans which help moderate the risk through the seasons.
As for variable or indexed rate plans, a PUC spokesperson tells NBC 5 Responds, “They are available for sale within the Texas retail market because that market is based on consumer choice.”
“I signed the contract,” Willoughby said. “I imagine, in the long run, I’m going to end up having to pay the bill.”
“It doesn’t make it easy to sleep,” Willoughby added. “I don’t know how we’re going to pay it.”
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