Last week, McKinney officials began to address how much Winter Storm Uri will cost government facilities, businesses, and residents. In a Tuesday meeting, the city council approved a plan to waive some costs from utilities bills during the freezing temperatures that caused massive blackouts and damage across the state.

But the utility costs that the council did not address were the skyrocketing electric costs, a financial threat for many North Texans as well as local governments.

McKinney Mayor George Fuller called it a significant step to providing relief to business and residents, according to a March 3 NBC5 report. “This has been a challenging time for our city,” he said, “and we need to step up immediately and provide assistance where we are able.” 

Last month, when temperatures plummeted, and as snow and ice closed roads, offices and schools, Texas’ electrical grid came within minutes of catastrophe. Many critics have said it was a crisis that state officials could have avoided. Texas lawmakers are now promising regulatory change. Several lawsuits have been filed.

The price of wholesale electricity during Winter Storm URI skyrocketed in Texas’ deregulated electricity market. Customers who are on fixed rates have not seen the same drastic price hikes. But some people who pay variable rates have been burdened with thousands of dollars in electric bills.

North Texas cities also haven’t escape the burden. A couple of weeks ago, ERCOT sent a $207 million four-day winter storm electric bill to Denton’s electric provider. The city promptly turned around and sued ERCOT for price gauging during a state disaster emergency.

Shortly after news spread about Denton’s bill, the Texas Attorney General’s Office announced investigations into ERCOT and 11 energy providers, including Oncor, a provider for McKinney. Texas AG Ken Paxton has also sued Griddy, a wholesale electric provider, for exuberant price increases passed on to customers.

“While Texans pulled together to get their communities through this disaster, they were largely left in the dark,” Paxton said in the news release announcing the investigations. “We will get to the bottom of this power failure and I will tirelessly pursue justice for Texans.”

Gov. Greg Abbott promised not to forget about Texans who have been burdened with high electric bills. Last week, after pressure from lawmakers, the governor-appointed Public Utility Commission signed an order that temporarily stopped providers from disconnecting utilities because of unpaid bills.

At the March 2 city council meeting, council members waived some water and waste costs incurred during the winter storm. They plan to help by charging water at the city’s lowest rate. They also plan to waive permit fees for storm repairs as well as fees for dumping debris and solid waste. A city staff employee told council members that waiving those fees will cost the city between $400,000 and $500,000.

“Water will be the highest driver of all the costs,” the staff employee said shortly before council approved measures to help businesses and residents.

Collin County cities like Plano and Frisco are reporting no major increases in electric bills to city facilities because they pay fixed rates for power.

In an interview last week, Fuller said the city was still assessing the full impact the city and its residents will feel from bills from its providers, Oncor and CoServe. They plan to revise it as more information becomes available.

“I will be posting a summary of what we learned once we have all the facts,” he said.

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney is a freelance journalist based in the Dallas area. His work has appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Observer, Denton Record-Chronicle, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and the Las Vegas...