If you’ve been following the news lately, then you’ve likely heard about the energy troubles in the Lone Star State over the last week or so (I experienced them myself!).
Millions of homeowners were left without power -- often for days -- and some had no access to water either, thanks to frozen pipes or power outages at the hundreds of treatment plants throughout the city. Those who did have water? They were asked to boil it before consuming or cooking with it.
Though power has largely been restored and most have clean drinking water again, Texans are now getting hit with another whammy: Sky-high energy bills.
With Texas’ deregulated power market, power providers were allowed to charge surge pricing during last week’s storm, and the result has been staggering. Some property owners reported electric bills of nearly $20,000.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said the state will investigate these charges and has temporarily barred companies from shutting off power and gas utilities due to nonpayment. Still, the question remains: How was this allowed to happen? More importantly, what can property owners do to protect themselves should a similar event occur again?
Here are four options that can help:
1. Make sure you’re on a fixed-rate plan
Most of the Texans seeing those exorbitant bills were on variable-rate power plans, meaning their per-megawatt rate reflected demand. As demand for power surged during the storm, rates shot up (to the tune of $9,000 per megawatt, reportedly!)
If you want to be sure your property isn’t hit with jaw-dropping energy charges, go check your power plan now. Make sure you’re on a fixed-rate contract that guarantees you a rate for an extended time period. Companies usually offer terms anywhere from a few months up to two years, so the longer your term, the longer your rate is guaranteed.
2. Turn off your power during the next surge
If there’s a major event that causes high energy demand in your area, you can always head to your breaker box and turn off the main power switch to your house. This will keep you from getting hit by any additional charges while prices surge.
Keep in mind this isn’t a good option if you plan to stay in the house. If you’re able to get to a hotel or a friend’s or family member’s, though, it can be a smart way to safeguard your finances.
3. Consider solar panels
Solar systems come with significantly lower energy prices than traditionally powered homes, and they’re not subject to the same problems as main power grids either. If you’re not up for installing an entire solar panel system, some Texas homeowners had luck with solar batteries like the Tesla Powerwall. These store up solar energy for later use and can be handy in an outage or other emergency.
4. Switch off autopay
Finally, disable autopay on your electricity and gas accounts. By switching these over to paper or email billing, you’ll give yourself some lag time between when charges hit and when the actual bill comes due. This will allow you to contact your provider, protest the charges, or even contact an attorney if it comes to that.
The bottom line
The issues facing Texans this week should serve as a wake-up call for property owners -- especially if you live in a state with unregulated energy markets (e.g., Michigan, Pennsylvania, California). Take steps to protect yourself from sky-high energy charges now and know how you’ll respond should the unthinkable happen.
You might also consider an energy audit to ensure your property is working as efficiently and affordably as possible.