By Gary McWilliams
HOUSTON (Reuters) – Eight energy companies have failed to pay nearly $1 billion for power and services during February’s deadly power blackout in Texas, the state’s grid operator said this week, and the costs are likely to fall on consumers.
A winter-storm surge in demand saddled the companies that sell, transmit and generate electricity in the state with about $47 billion in costs as fuel prices soared. Texas consumers will see higher prices as the unpaid fees are passed along to remaining providers.
Power grid operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) last week said grid users it did not identify had failed to pay $2.46 billion due. ERCOT identified eight companies that had failed to pay a total $930,000 this week, including Brazos Electric Power Cooperative.
Brazos Electric sought protection from creditors this week, citing $2.1 billion in storm-related charges from ERCOT. A Brazos spokesman did not reply to requests for comment.
Video: The growing risk to the country’s power systems
ERCOT did not say if the eight were included in the larger figure. The total outstanding will be released at a legislative hearing Thursday, a spokeswoman said.
As part of its duties, ERCOT acts as a clearinghouse, collecting for power delivered to utilities and paying the companies that provide the electrons. When bills go unpaid, the costs are reallocated to all grid users.
“Our primary focus through the storm and going forward is protecting customers from price increases and bill shock,” said Vinnie Campo, general manager of Bulb US. “The market is in need of fixing and fast,” criticizing storm price increases as a “windfall” for generators.
Campo supports a proposal before the state’s Public Utility Commission to roll back some $2 billion in service fees. Bulb was cited by ERCOT as $30,800 short on grid payments. However, the amount has been paid, a spokeswoman said.
ERCOT’s disclosure of those firms behind on paying bills “is perfectly fair game,” said Patrick Woodson, chief executive of retail power marketer ATG Clean Energy whose company is not on the list. ATG took significant financial hits but is current with ERCOT.
“I hope they will apply the same standards to identifying the market participants who made massive profits during this disaster,” he said.
(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)