Texas Legislature Close to Approving Billions to Pay for Winter Storm Financial Fallout

Justin Aguilar’s bingo halls in Corpus Christi lost a week of business and thousands of dollars during February’s deadly winter storm. That was devastating enough.

But that loss of income is dwarfed by what the business now owes because of the Texas power crisis: There’s a $120,000 electricity bill waiting to be paid.

Since the bookkeeper for Bingoland, Margaret Baldwin, got the eye-popping bill — nearly 50 times more than an average month for the two buildings — she’s just held on to it. Normally, the organizations that rent the bingo halls would be on the hook. But instead of passing on the obscene costs, Baldwin is hoping for help from Austin.

“If we had to come up with the money and pay this, it would shut down the halls,” she said.

The bingo halls had a variable electricity plan from Summer Energy that offers cheaper power when the state’s electricity supply is sufficient, but more expensive rates when it’s scarce. Exorbitant power bills now loom over thousands of Texas businesses like an overfilled dam, waiting. Baldwin and others are waiting for a desperately needed bailout from the Texas Legislature.

The February winter storm was one of the most devastating disasters in the state’s history, killing at least 100 people. It was also one of the most expensive because of spikes in wholesale power prices and natural gas prices. Electricity regulators set power prices at the maximum rate — $9,000 per megawatt-hour — for several days in hopes that market dynamics would encourage more electricity to be supplied.

Because the freeze knocked out many of the state’s power generators, electricity companies had to buy what little power was available at that exorbitant rate (the average price for power in 2020 was $22 per megawatt-hour). Natural gas fuel prices also spiked more than 700% during the storm.

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