What You Need to Know About Paying Your Electric Bill Post-Harvey

Immediately after residents started returning to their storm-battered homes, Public Utility Commission of Texas issued an emergency order #47552 to help residents recover. Taking effect on Aug. 31, the arrangements required Retail Electric Providers to grant customers deferred payment plans by request if they lived in a declared disaster zone. The offer ended on Sept. 29, putting residents back to regularly scheduled payments.

The City of Houston and six other organizations have petitioned the Public Utilities Commission of Texas to issue a new mandate to further protect victims of Hurricane Harvey. Among the groups submitting the request in writing is Texas Legal Services Center, a nonprofit law firm that provides legal representation for people with low-income.

Their goal is to enact legislation to prevent utility providers from discontinuing electrical services for Texans currently unable to pay. Customers that were affected by the storm will also be exempt from paying late fees or losing security deposits under the proposed changes. Electrical companies will be responsible for offering payment plans if their customers cannot pay the bill all at once.

Executive director of Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy, Carol Biedrzycki, described the situation: It’s hard to believe that everyone says recovery will take years, yet the average electricity customer is expected to have it all together in two weeks. We need to allow people as much time as they need to find a place to live.”

Several utilities in the area already gave customers a break immediately after the hurricane, but those provisions are set to expire soon. If the protections get passed, they should be good for up to one year. Utilities will also be asked to expedite existing services transferring to new locations, and estimate reduced electricity usage for customers. Smart meters that were damaged during the storm will not be used to determine electricity usage. Instead, utility providers must use their best discretion to estimate an accurate level of usage, and that includes taking into consideration reduced usage during hurricane-related power outages. If the smart meter was not damaged, then utility providers will take those readings at face value.

The 30 counties targeted for this specific type of relief are

  • Aransas
  • Austin
  • Bee
  • Calhoun
  • Chambers
  • Colorado
  • Brazoria
  • DeWitt
  • Fayette
  • Fort Bend
  • Galveston
  • Goliad
  • Gonzales
  • Harris
  • Jackson
  • Jefferson
  • Jim Wells
  • Karnes
  • Kleberg
  • Lavaca
  • Liberty
  • Live Oak
  • Matagorda
  • Nueces
  • Refugio
  • San Patricio
  • Victoria
  • Waller
  • Wharton
  • Wilson

So far, all Texas electricity providers have committed to assisting their customers in this time of need. Many have organized fundraising efforts and sent volunteers to local communities to do what they can.

People with questions or concerns should contact their individual energy provider. The local utility is responsible for reinstating electricity to each home and repairing neighborhood power outages, including specific home reactivations. As floodwaters continue to recede, transmission line repairs will continue on an as-needed basis. Homes that were cut off from the power supply in order to comply with government-issued, mandatory evacuations will see their power come back on as well.

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