John Spiggs began to suspect trouble when the electricity started fluttering on and off late on Sunday night last weekend. Extensive snowstorms had swept over Texas, with temperatures below minus 20 degrees.
– The electricity was turned off for a couple of hours, and came back. And on Monday it was off for twelve hours. Then it came back for a couple of hours, he tells TT.
Until Thursday, the electricity problems lasted.
– I tried to keep the phone charged and turned on the heat so that the pipes would not freeze. I was curled up on the couch, with as many blankets as I could find, with my two pets. I had no idea how long it would last, he says.
Spiggs is a landscape architect living in a studio in downtown Dallas. He chose the electricity company Griddy after a recommendation from a friend.
– If you do not use that much electricity, you can save money with them. I knew that prices would fluctuate, it could be 20 cents per kilowatt hour, but I had no idea that it could be this expensive.
For a week’s electricity, Spiggs paid 2,600 dollars, equivalent to 21,500 kronor. Normally he pays 10-15 dollars.
– At first it felt embarrassing. I should have understood before and done a little more research, he says.
But when he understands that he is not alone – American media report on a part that has been owed over 10,000 dollars – the shame has turned into outrage.
The Texas electricity market is also uniquely deregulated by American standards. Customers can choose from 220 resellers in a market-driven system. Some electricity suppliers have variable costs, so if demand increases, the price also increases.
But few had been shown to take height for an extreme weather situation. In the pursuit of low prices, companies have rather saved on weather insurance and maintenance, according to The New York Times.
– Deregulation can be likened to removing speed limits on a motorway. It opens up shortcuts that cause disasters, says Ed Hirs at the University of Houston, to the newspaper.
Could not change
The electricity company Griddy has ended up in the firing line, but Spiggs points out that before the storm, Griddy at least contacted his customers with the unusual recommendation that they should change electricity companies if they could. Last Monday, Spiggs made an attempt:
– But then it was too late to change, because everyone was full of snow. No one could get out, I contacted three different electricity companies, but I could not change before the 22nd, he says.
John Spiggs – like many others – points the finger at the independent electricity network operator Ercot, which declared an emergency on 12 February and allowed the maximum price per kilowatt hour to rise to 9 dollars (74 kronor), about 300 times higher than the normal price.
– They exploited people during a crisis where many have been affected. I think they should be held accountable, he says.
He himself will try to pay off the bills – Griddy has presented an installment plan.
– But there are many who can not pay their bills, and many properties that have been damaged. I hope you can find a way to help them. This is a time when the economy is affected as a result of covid and people are out of work. It could not have come at a worse time, he says.
Gustav Sjöholm / TT
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