TX Winter Storm

New Braunfels is seen from the sky during the Texas winter storm on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021. Photo by Jonathan Dominguez

 New Braunfels Utilities said Monday it was confident it could maintain competitive rates following last week’s winter storm event that resulted in rotating power outages throughout the state, but the exact impact on electric rates and customer wallets remains unclear.

Although there have been reports of retail electric bills in the thousands of dollars in some parts of Texas, NBU said this would not happen in New Braunfels.

According to Melissa C. Krause, NBU’s chief operations and strategy officer said the utility operates a power supply program designed to reduce volatility and maintain a competitive price.

“Going into this event, NBU’s electric bill was among the very lowest in the region,” Krause said. “New Braunfels Utilities passes on the cost of energy purchased in the ERCOT market to NBU’s customers with no markup. New Braunfels Utilities’ hedging program and reserves policy greatly insulated our customers from last week’s unprecedented event.”

Last week’s pricing of wholesale power, specifically during the Energy Reliability Council of Texas’ third-level alert, was historic, as energy pricing spiked to $9,000 per megawatt-hour up from an average of $28 and stayed there for three days.

According to Kruse, the ERCOT market has never experienced such an exorbitant level of pricing for the extended and continuous lengths which the state experienced. Additionally, natural gas prices rose from around $3 per MMBtu to $400 per MMBtu, commonly used to price electric energy products.

There are a number of issues still to be settled in ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which regulates ERCOT, according to Krause.

The PUC has met five times in the last seven days to take up these issues, and ERCOT has an emergency board meeting this week. There is also a Texas State Senate Business and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday.

“Until these issues are settled, the impact to NBU’s electric rates will be unclear,” she said. “We are not happy with this, and we will continue to pursue all appeals available to us in the coming weeks to make that number as low as possible.”

NBU said it would continue working with its board and the New Braunfels City Council to “find the most financially reasonable solutions for our community” as prices stabilize and the utility assesses the final financial impact of last week’s storms.

NBU customers can review their usage and bills by logging into their account at nbutexas.com.

The site also provides information to manage their accounts and bills. Budget billing and NBU’s utility bill payment assistance program information are also available online.

Autopay is a free service, and customers continue to receive a bill for review before it is drafted.

Customers with questions about autopay can go online or call 830-629-8400.

Officials with the Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative said on their website that residential customers could see an increase in their upcoming bills driven by two primary factors, the first through an increase of kilowatt-hour usage during the week.

“Freezing temperatures lingering for consecutive days caused many central heating systems to operate in emergency heat mode, utilizing heat strips for long periods of time,” said Graham Hauptman, GVEC senior executive manager, in a statement. “Multiple days of this type of energy use, compounded by the additional operational strain from rotating outages, significantly raised individual usage during this period of time, which will result in a higher bill.”

The second element is the pricing of wholesale power throughout the week, specifically during the emergency alert.

“This extreme level of pricing has never happened — for the extended and continuous lengths which we saw — in the history of the ERCOT competitive wholesale market,” said GVEC Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Darren Schauer.

Schauer said that as a result of the utility’s long-term financial strategy to hedge against large market fluctuations, GVEC would not have to immediately pass the high costs experienced last week to its members.

“While GVEC will likely need to raise the generation and transmission rate, the good news is the cooperative, as a direct result of our strong financial position, has the ability to structure rate changes to help minimize the direct burden to our membership,” Schauer said. “GVEC is considering all options to design a rate that will recover the necessary costs over multiple years and lessen the overall impact to our members as much as possible.”

Officials with Pedernales Electric Cooperative said on their website that the rate for base power per kilowatt-hour during the weather event would not change, but any variations in the bill would be due to the amount of energy consumed, as heating a home during cold weather can cause higher than normal energy consumption.

However, PEC said it’s not clear yet what impact the storm will have on the ultimate price of power long term.

 

NB expediting permit and inspection process

New Braunfels city officials said Monday they were taking steps to expedite the permit and inspection process for the repair of damages due to the winter storms.

First, plumbing permit fees will be waived for any project resulting from winter storm damage. Fees for other permits for work associated with water or weather damage will also be waived for homes and businesses. Applicants are asked to identify the project as severe weather-related repair on the application or other submittal document when they apply for the permit.

Additionally, the city’s Development Services Division will prioritize and expedite the review of plumbing permits, inspections and plumbing contractor registrations.

“Water service to our residents and business owners is a priority for the whole community. Development Services will work with all contractors to rapidly facilitate their registration if they are not already in the city’s system,” said Christopher Looney, the city’s development services and planning director.

New Braunfels Mayor Rusty Brockman said the steps the city is taking to help residents deal with repairs to their homes and businesses “is another example of what makes New Braunfels a great place to live and work.”

“We hope that these efforts help ease some of the burden that so many of our friends and family are dealing with in the wake of last week’s winter storms,” Brockman said.

For additional information regarding waivers for fees or expedited permitting and inspections, contact the Planning and Development Services Department at 830-221-4050 or log on to their website for access to residential and commercial permit applications.

 

Residents affected by winter weather can apply for federal disaster assistance

Homeowners and renters in Comal and Guadalupe counties who sustained damage during last week’s storms can apply for disaster assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Residents who have insurance and are applying for disaster assistance must also file a claim with their insurance company as soon as possible.

By law, FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for losses covered by insurance. However, residents might be eligible for federal assistance if insurance does not cover all damage.

The fastest and easiest way to apply is by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov.

If it is not possible to register online, call 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585), which operates from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

Those who use a relay service such as a videophone, Innocaption or CapTel should update FEMA with their specific number assigned to that service.

Residents who apply for assistance should have the following information readily available:

  • A current phone number where they can be contacted
  • Their address at the time of the disaster and the address where they are now staying
  • Social Security number, if available
  • A general list of damage and losses
  • If insured, the insurance policy number, or the agent and company name

FEMA officials recommend taking photos to document damage and begin cleanup and repairs to prevent further damage. Residents should keep receipts from all purchases related to the cleanup and repair.

Disaster assistance might include financial assistance for temporary lodging and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration are available to businesses, homeowners and renters.

Call the SBA at 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 800-877-8339) or visit www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance.

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