After unusual icy weather left millions of Texans without power, some are facing another crisis: Sky-high electricity bills.
The surge in pricing is hitting people who have chosen to pay wholesale prices for their power, which is typically cheaper than paying fixed rates during good weather, but can spike when there’s high demand for electricity. Many of those who have reported receiving large bills are customers of electricity provider Griddy, which only operates in Texas.
Among them is Susan Hosford of Denison, Texas. On a typical February day, she pays Griddy less than $2.50 for power. But the one-day cost spiked to hundreds of dollars after the storm. In all, she was automatically charged $1,346.17 for the first two weeks of February, which was more than she had in her checking account, causing her bank to charge her overdraft fees and affect other bills.
“This whole thing has been a nightmare,” she said.
Here’s more on the soaring electricity bills:
WHAT ARE WHOLESALE ELECTRICITY PRICES?
Wholesale electricity prices fluctuate based on demand. Because natural gas pipelines and wind turbines froze up in Texas, there was less power available, but high demand for electricity, causing wholesale prices to shoot up, said Joshua Rhodes, an energy research associate at the University of Texas.
Wholesale prices are typically as low as a couple of cents per kilowatt-hour but spiked to $9 per kilowatt-hour after the storm. Fixed rate customers pay a set amount that doesn’t rise as much. Typically, they pay around 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. But Rhodes said fixed rate customers could see their price rise by a few cents later this year as companies hit by the icy conditions look to recoup their costs — but their bills won’t be in the thousands.
People are able to pay wholesale prices in Texas because it’s one of the only states that lets people pick which company it buys power from, Rhodes said.
WHAT IS GRIDDY?
Griddy, which launched in 2017, charges $10 a month to give people a way to pay wholesale prices for electricity instead of a fixed rate. It warned customers of raising prices and urged them to switch providers. The company said wholesale prices returned to normal as of Feb. 20.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
Griddy said it has 29,000 members. It’s unclear how many other Texans also pay wholesale prices from other companies.
“We won’t get the full picture on the financial devastation for maybe 30 to 90 days,” said Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston.
WILL THOSE WHO GOT LARGE BILLS GET FINANCIAL HELP?
That’s unclear. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Sunday that he is working with members of the legislature to address skyrocketing energy bills and “find ways that the state can help reduce this burden.” But he didn’t give specifics on what that may be. For the time being, the state has stopped companies from cutting off power for not paying.
Rhodes said bailing out customers may be a hard sell since they opted to pay wholesale prices and may have paid a much lower price than others for some time.
Cruz trip tests durability of scandal, memory of voters
By WILL WEISSERT and STEVE PEOPLES Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Ted Cruz’s political career already featured many surprise twists before a jaunt to Mexico this week brought him a new level of notoriety.
The Texas senator was once the biggest threat to Donald Trump capturing the 2016 presidential nomination. During a particularly bitter stretch of that year’s Republican primary, Cruz called Trump a “coward” and “pathological liar.” By last month, however, Cruz was one of Trump’s staunchest allies and a leader in the former president’s baseless attempt to overturn the November election.
Such shifts are intended to keep Cruz in a strong position with the GOP base if he runs for the White House again in 2024. But they’ve also turned him into one of Washington’s most villainized figures, someone willing to take any politically convenient position if it keeps his future ambitions alive.
Cruz is under further attack for traveling to Cancun while his constituents suffered through a deadly winter storm that left hundreds of thousands without power and running water. His explanation — that his daughters pushed for the getaway because they were out of school — was particularly panned.
The optics of the trip are hardly ideal. But the question is whether, three years before he faces voters again, the political fallout will last.
“Ted Cruz is feeling the first post-Trump controversy,” said New Hampshire-based Republican strategist Mike Biundo. “I don’t think anybody knows exactly what will happen in this new reality that we’re living in.”
Before Trump got to Washington, scandals, lies and sometimes even simple but major gaffes wrecked political careers.
Despite later winning a congressional seat, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford will forever be remembered for fabricating a trek along the Appalachian Trail, just as former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was undone by repeated sexting scandals and ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry couldn’t live down the debate stage moment of forgetting the third of three federal agencies he’d promised to eliminate.
Once Trump was in the White House, his outlandish antics attracted so much attention that something that simply looked bad, like a senator’s leaving on vacation while his state was suffering, wouldn’t receive much notice.
Cruz is now navigating how much damage control is needed in a post-Trump political landscape.
He rushed home on Thursday and told reporters the trip was “obviously a mistake.” But he made no public appearances on Friday, and his office didn’t answer questions about his schedule or what he was doing to help Texans cope with the storm. His office simply released a statement backing Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for federal assistance.
Still, Cruz is still the best-known leader in the country’s largest red state, with a far higher national profile than Abbott, who has also been mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential contender, and Sen. John Cornyn, who coasted to reelection last year by a more comfortable margin than Cruz, who narrowly edged Democrat Beto O’Rourke in 2018.
Alice Stewart, a GOP strategist and veteran of Cruz’s presidential campaign, noted that the senator has years before he’ll have to run for reelection or president or both in 2024. That’s a lot of time to put the Cancun trip “in the rearview mirror,” even if Cruz’s political opponents will continue to trumpet it.
“People have come to tolerate a lot more during and after the era of Trump,” said Stewart, who noted that while social media often intensifies political scandals, it also tends to shorten their lifespans.
Rick Tyler also worked for Cruz’s 2016 campaign but has frequently criticized the senator for kowtowing to Trump since then. He said that “when Texas was down and out and embarrassed, frankly,” Cruz’s trip to the beach was unforgivable: “There’s no way this is going to be forgotten.”
“Cruz is very beatable,” Tyler said of the senator’s reelection prospects, especially if he tries again for the White House the same year. “He’s got to decide. By doing one or the other, you risk losing both.”
Of course, Cruz has effectively used being one of Washington’s most detested figures to his advantage in the past. He came to Congress as a conservative insurgent who infuriated both parties — even prompting fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to once joke that no senator would convict one of their own for murdering Cruz in the chamber.
In 2016, Cruz won the Iowa caucuses and proved to have a solid national base of support, setting up a tense primary fight that would last for months. At one point, Trump attacked the looks of Cruz’s wife and baselessly suggested that his father had a hand in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cruz lashed out at Trump in response and was later booed off the stage at that year’s Republican National Convention for failing to endorse the New Yorker.
But in the four years since, Cruz transformed into one of Trump’s biggest champions in Congress.
Among those close to Cruz, there is a sense that the senator hurt himself politically this week but that he remains well positioned for another White House bid should he opt to run again. His team believes Cruz is the most popular prospective 2024 candidate not named Trump among likely Republican primary voters.
Cruz was a fundraising force for his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate leading up to November’s election. And his own fundraising has surged in the months since — including after he stood against the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory in early January. His small-dollar donor base, in particular, which was large to begin with, has grown dramatically, aides say.
Even amid calls for Cruz to resign for his role in helping encourage Trump supporters who staged a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Republicans in San Antonio organized a rally celebrating him as “courageous.”
Cruz is also planning to attend next week’s influential Conservative Political Action Conference, where he can further ingratiate himself with the GOP’s most fervent activists, who aren’t likely to hold Cancun against him.
Cruz allies note that the second-place finisher in the previous Republican primary often becomes the nominee in the next election. But moving forward, there is a sense internally that Cruz’s political strength is directly linked to his relationship with Trump, whose feelings are difficult to gauge.
Regina Thomson, a former Cruz loyalist who fought Trump’s nomination at the 2016 GOP convention, has since warmed to Trump. She said that Cruz’s Cancun trip didn’t bother her, but that ultimately, she and other conservative activists would likely follow Trump’s lead.
“If you would ask a lot of (Cruz’s former) grassroots supporters today, they’d say Trump did such a good job they’d like him to run again,” Thomson said. “And if Trump doesn’t run, I think a lot of people will look to him to see who he’s supporting.”