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A Hodgepodge of Utility Disconnection Policies in Texas

Disconnection Policies at Texas Electric Utilities Leave Many Customers Vulnerable

 Gov. Abbott Should Order Statewide Moratorium on Utility Shutoffs 

AUSTIN, TEXAS – An investigation by Public Citizen’s Texas office has uncovered a hodgepodge of disconnection policies among the state’s 130 electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities during the COVID-19 emergency.

The disconnection policies often are not publicly posted or easily accessible, which is likely to lead to confusion and uncertainty among customers.

On March 26, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) placed a temporary moratorium on disconnections for residential customers of electric utilities that participate in the competitive market in Texas. This order only applies to residential customers who have applied for unemployment. It did nothing to protect customers at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities from shutoffs. While many of these utilities have voluntarily suspended disconnections, others have not.

Electricity is vital to public health, especially during a pandemic — allowing us to refrigerate our food and medicine, air condition our homes and cook hot meals for our families.

“The necessary stay-at home and social distancing orders have resulted in loss of income for millions of Texans, with over 1.5 million filing for unemployment,” said Kaiba White, energy policy and outreach specialist in Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The state should do everything possible to help Texans through this difficult time. Cutting people off from a vital resource like electricity when they’re struggling to keep themselves and their families safe is counterproductive.”

There are 68 electric cooperatives in Texas, and they primarily serve rural areas. Twenty-eight of them have suspended disconnections for residential customers. Many electric cooperatives also have suspended disconnections for commercial customers. However, only 14 have posted this information on their websites. And 32 of the co-ops continue to disconnect customers who can’t pay their bills. We have been unable to determine current policies for the remaining nine.

Municipal electric utilities in Texas are doing somewhat better. While a few of the larger municipal electric utilities – including CPS Energy in San Antonio, Austin Energy, Denton Municipal Electric and Garland Power and Light – serve densely populated urban areas, many of the municipal utilities are in small towns. Of the 62 municipal utilities serving Texas, 38 have suspended disconnections for residential customers, and many have done the same for commercial customers. Only 12 utilities have posted information online. Sixteen are still disconnecting customers who can’t pay, and we could not determine current policies for the remaining eight.

Status of Disconnection Policies at Texas Electric Utilities as of May 1, 2020

Municipal  Cooperative Total
Not Disconnecting 38 (12 posted online) 28 (14 posted online) 66
Disconnecting 16 32 48
Unknown 8 9 17
Total 62 68 130

The lack of statewide policy has left thousands of Texans without certainty as to the status of their electricity access throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are several problems with the PUC’s system to address electric utility disconnections in the competitive market during the COVID-19 emergency, most notably that the order expires on May 15 unless the commission takes further action at its May 14 meeting. Gov. Greg Abbott could end uncertainty for all customers by issuing an executive order for a statewide moratorium on disconnecting residential customers during the COVID-19 emergency.

“Public Citizen calls on Gov. Abbott to do the right thing and issue this order immediately in the interest of public health and avoiding further harm to Texans,” White said.

Please help us encourage Abbott to suspend utility shutoffs for all Texans during the Covid-19 emergency by sending him a message here.