Oil & Gas News

Utility Bills Are Skyrocketing: Residents Are Asking Questions


By: Megan Rodriguez – San Antonio Express News – Timothy Davis said his overall utility bill from New Braunfels Utilities is double what it was at this time last year.

He reconfigured the family’s air conditioning system and installed attic vents to reduce the cost, but his most recent electric bill was about $496, even with those adjustments.

“We were blindsided,” Davis, 45, said, recounting the shock of this summer’s bills.

Davis was one of about 60 people looking for answers about why the electric bills are rising at a New Braunfels Utility forum Wednesday evening. The utility hosted a morning forum as well and livestreamed the presentations that broke down why people’s bills have been higher than usual.

The average customer spent about $195 on electricity in July 2021, but that jumped to about $272 this July — a nearly 40 percent increase. Bills have been higher than usual all summer amid record-breaking temperatures, but July hit hardest for most customers.

NBU CEO Ian Taylor blamed the summer’s record-high temperatures that have increased customers’ use of power, a rise in natural gas prices and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ more conservative approach to managing the grid.

Davis is a member of Citizens of New Braunfels for Responsible Growth, a group formed to “stand up” to the city council and advocate for issues like increased police and parks ahead of high-density apartments in the community.

Like Davis, fellow group member Cheryl Aguirre, 43, said her overall July utility bill also doubled, rising to $1,000, with $534 of that for her electricity.

“It was very unexpected,” Aguirre said. “We can afford to pay it, but it’s definitely put a hit on our expenses. I mean, I’m not expecting to pay a second mortgage. … I had to budget as far as groceries go for the month because most of it is going toward the energy costs.”

Husband and wife Brian Pederson and Julie Schueller said their last electric bill was around $220. They moved to New Braunfels in January but said they had become accustomed to paying about $150 around this time of year when they lived in Bexar County.

Though the increased cost has not caused much of an issue for them financially, the couple said they’re concerned for others who can’t easily take on a jump in prices like this one.

They plan to look into solar power for their home to lower their bill.

This year’s average temperatures in May, June and July have been more than five degrees hotter than anything experienced in the past decade. The high heat caused more people to use their air conditioners at the same time that electric prices were rising across the state.

The Texas Tribune reported that many people across the state are paying at least 50 percent more than they did for electricity last year, largely because of the effects Russia invading Ukraine has had on the energy market. The price of natural gas has gone up more than 200 percent since that invasion, and Texas has been exporting more natural gas than usual.

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But natural gas is not the only culprit. Taylor said that after Winter Storm Uri, ERCOT has been taking a more conservative approach to operating the grid to increase reliability.

“When you prioritize reliability, there’s a cost for it,” Taylor said, explaining that ERCOT is doing more now to increase the amount it has in reserves and paying to ensure that generators are ready to come online if needed. “So it costs more, but the grid is more stable.”

NBU also is still feeling the effects of Winter Storm Uri.

When the winter storm hit, NBU spent $93 million on power, completely running through its $43 million in cash reserves and forcing officials to take out $50 million in debt to make up the difference.

From March 2021 through July, Taylor said NBU collected the full $50 million from customers to pay off that debt. The average customer’s bill included an approximately $25 charge each month to make that possible.

But it will be years before Winter Storm Uri is entirely in the city’s rearview mirror. NBU now is working to replenish the reserves that it ran through. Since the utility spent as much as its annual budget for power within the one-week storm, it is trying to save up the cost of 365 days worth of power, which is about $120 million.

Taylor estimates it will take until 2030 to get to that goal. In 2023, the average customer will spend $15.60 each month on replenishing those reserves, and it will cost people $9 a month from 2024 through 2030.

For now though, NBU has suspended collections for the reserves during August and September to give customers some relief after months of high bills.

Taylor apologized to customers at the Wednesday forums for not suspending the cost of paying for the winter storm debt sooner.

A major point of confusion and concern for NBU customers has been a Power Cost Recovery Adjustment, or PCRA, charge on each person’s bill. Taylor said the charge is a variable rate that reflects the cost of purchasing energy.

The PCRA is made up of the costs from Winter Storm Uri and a portion of what it costs to pay for power generation. Since things like rising natural gas prices can impact the cost of energy, the PCRA can fluctuate month to month, depending on the market.

petition is circulating on change.org to remove or reduce the PCRA charge from NBU bills. About 3,700 people supported it as of Thursday.

But Taylor said that fully removing the PCRA is impossiblec, and the most the utility can do to reduce it is temporarily suspend collecting money to replenish the reserves following the winter storm.

However, the term PCRA may disappear as NBU looks to reformat its bill to give a more detailed breakdown of all costs.

NBU has not been disconnecting customers for non-payment all summer long and does not currently have a date set for when disconnections might resume. Customers in need of billing assistance or who want to get on a flexible payment plan can reach out to NBU for information.

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