Texas families need to be protected from unreasonable energy bills in the wake of last week’s winter storms that knocked out power to millions, Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday.
Arriving at Port San Antonio with two Air Force cargo planes delivering 175,000 pounds of emergency drinking water to the region, Abbott gave an update on relief efforts in the state following a week of below-freezing temperatures that trounced the state’s energy grid and water systems.
“We understand the enormous challenges that our fellow Texans are facing right now because of either power outages or shortages of water,” he said. The state is working with the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deliver water and restore power and water throughout the state.
Nearly 4,000 members of the Army National Guard have been deployed to support the water distribution effort, and in San Antonio, where some residents remain under a boil water notice, the City and County have established 13 sites where residents can get water.
At his Sunday night briefing, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said more than 43,000 cases of water – about 21 million bottles – had been distributed in recent days, with 756 cases delivered to homebound seniors.
About 30,000 people in the state are still without power following last week’s storms, mostly due to issues involving local power providers, Abbott said, adding he suspects power will be fully restored across Texas “to every house, either later tonight or tomorrow.”
The governor also addressed the prospect of skyrocketing electric and power bills many consumers are facing now that much of the state is back online, skies have cleared, and normal temperatures have returned. San Antonio on Sunday reached 74 degrees.
“I held an emergency meeting yesterday with legislative leaders to begin the legislative process to shield Texas families from unreasonable bills,” he said. “This is something that’s been fast-tracked.
“We will have meetings this week to get to the bottom of this but also to provide relief and support to our fellow Texans.”
One of the topics he plans to discuss is how winterization protections, recommended to safeguard the state’s power plants in 2011, were not followed.
“But let’s talk about where we’re going,” Abbott said. “We will make sure when this session is over, all of the facilities that Texans count on for power generation will be winterized for the winter, but also summer-ized in the summer.
“We should never run short of power again. Texas is the energy state. We need to make sure that we translate that into power generation to make sure that the power stays on.”
Also on Sunday, the Public Utility Commission of Texas called an emergency meeting to issue a moratorium on customer disconnections for nonpayment, he said. “This pause will give them time to address the electric and power billing challenges that Texans are seeing.”
The state also is focused on improving food distribution and providing food to those in need. Grocery store shelves are being restocked “as we speak,” and Abbott said he suspended some regulations in order to allow more delivery trucks on the road and so that commercial kitchens can prepare food.
On Saturday, the San Antonio Food Bank provided 2,400 households with over 100 pounds of food each at three distribution sites, according to Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the food bank.
“Usually families are choosing between paying their utilities or buying food and this week, they were without both,” Cooper said. In many cases, Saturday’s food bank volunteers also had been without power and water in recent days.
“It’s going to take some time to recover so I think there’s a big role for the government to play,” he said.