The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) plans to explore “all options” to reduce any financial burdens to consumers brought about because of high natural gas and electricity costs related to last week’s unprecedented winter storms.

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Regulators also were in “daily contact” with producers, pipeline operators and electric regulators to ensure natural gas supplies continue to be delivered.

“Utilities have been purchasing gas to deliver to customers in a commodities market in which prices dramatically increased due to the extremely high demand brought on by the prolonged storm,” the three-member RRC said.
Commission Chair Christi Craddick said she was “committed to utilizing all of the tools available to this agency to assist in the coming weeks. The Railroad Commission will be exploring all options in order to reduce the financial burden on Texans as we tackle the challenges that lie ahead together.”

As the leading electricity source in the state’s power grid, overseen by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, natural gas was at the center of the winter storm chaos last week, and prices skyrocketed. ERCOT ended emergency conditions on Friday. Post mortems about what happened and why are expected to continue, both at the federal and state level.

The RRC last week sent a notice to natural gas utilities under its jurisdiction authorizing them to set up regulatory accounts that could be used in rate proceedings, which would be reviewed as needed.

Commissioner Wayne Christian said Texans had gone through enough hardship during the winter storm “without having to worry about unexpected additional energy costs.” The RRC plans to do everything in its power “to ensure utilities have plenty of time to get caught up on these unexpected expenses, so consumers are not unduly burdened.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott during a press conference in San Antonio on Sunday said he was working with the Texas legislature “to address skyrocketing energy bills that resulted from a temporary spike in the energy market.”

State lawmakers are “working quickly to calculate the total cost of these bills and find ways that the state can help reduce this burden,” Abbott said.

In addition, the Texas Public Utility Commission has issued a moratorium on customer disconnections for nonpayment and is temporarily restricting providers from issuing invoices. 

“Multiple state agencies,” said Abbott, “are working together to ensure communities have access to water, food, and other resources as communities begin to recover from the severe winter storm.”

Most of the power has been restored in Texas, but in many areas on Monday, water supplies remained scarce or under boil water advisories. 

“We are making great progress in our recovery efforts from this winter storm, but many Texans are still without water, food, and other supplies, which is why the state is stepping up to make sure Texans have the resources they need to provide for their families,” said Abbott. “Together, we will continue to overcome this challenge.” 

The state deployed trucks and aircraft to deliver water to communities. As of Sunday, there had been 162 truck deliveries for two million bottles of water and 1.4 million bottles of water delivered by plane and helicopter. 

The state also had suspended size, weight and hours-of-service requirements to allow more commercial trucks on the road to deliver supplies across the state. In addition, Abbott waived regulations to allow the use of unlicensed kitchens to prepare meals, as long as they abided by guidance issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services. 

In related news, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is utilizing 200 monitors to assess air quality in communities across the state because of the deep freeze, which caused petrochemical plants and refineries to shut down. 

Each of the TCEQ stations measure for ozone, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and lead, as well as air toxics such as benzene, toluene, and 1,3-butadiene.

“The monitors are especially important following severe weather events and disasters, when many petrochemical plants and other industrial facilities resume operations,” said TCEQ’s Craig Pritzlaff, director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement.

In the coming days, TCEQ plans to deploy additional mobile air monitoring vans capable of sampling more than 1,000 pollutants. 

The shutdowns that occurred because of the winter storm may be considered unscheduled and would be classified as emissions events, which are not permitted. Petrochemical plants and other facilities are required to report emissions incidents within 24 hours of discovery.