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Railroad Commission signs off on gas bill settlement that will cost El Pasoans an extra $5.22 a month for 3 years

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Texans could see higher fees on their natural gas bills as early as next month, an effort to reimburse nine utilities for costs incurred during Winter Storm Uri in February.

The three-member Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, signed off on a settlement agreement with little fanfare Wednesday morning. The deal was hammered out between cities, municipal coalitions and gas utilities last week.

El Paso and surrounding West Texas customers will pay a monthly fee of $5.22 for the next three years, a total of $188 over three years. The original proposed fee was $4.33 over 10 years, or $520 total from each household.

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The utilities applied to the commission in July to ask for fee increases. The additional revenue will help recover billions in losses after four days of sub-freezing temperatures in February led to supply shortages and surging demand.

Amid the dangerous conditions, millions of people lost power, Texas’ largest power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, was minutes from a complete grid failure and more than 200 people died. Customers of El Paso Electric, which is not on the power grid with the rest of Texas, did not experience power loss.

That fee was agreed to after the City of El Paso and Texas Gas Service had their own section of the proposed settlement in which ratepayers in the West Texas area would pay less and over a shorter time than other Texans hit harder by the storm. 

In May, the Texas Legislature approved $10 billion in bonds for utility company and electric co-op costs during the storm. Lawmakers passed a measure, House Bill 1520, allowing gas utilities to recoup costs from the storm by charging fees to pay off the bonds in the long term — called securitization. 

The bill offers the bonds as an alternative to expensive one-time gas bills and to “reduce the cost that customers would otherwise experience,” according to the language of the bill.

Cover photo: Snow covers the border region on Feb. 14, 2021. El Paso’s temperatures reached a low of 14 degrees during the big winter freeze, but El Paso never experienced widespread or prolonged power outages because of its upgrades after a 2011 freeze.(Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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Danielle Prokop

Danielle Prokop is a climate change and environment reporter with El Paso Matters. She’s covered climate, local government and community at the Scottsbluff Star-Herald in Nebraska and the Santa Fe New Mexican. She can be reached at dprokop@elpasomatters.org.

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