Dan Patrick Says Texas May Ban Utility Plans That Produced $17k Power Bills: 'Read the Fine Print'

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said on Wednesday that variable utility plans which delivered extraordinary power bills to Texans may be banned because customers were not reading the fine print.

Patrick told Fox News' Harris Faulkner that residents should "not panic" after being broadsided by the unexpected debts, vowing that the state would help "figure that out." Although millions were left without electricity amid Texas' unprecedented cold snap earlier this month, many of those who did not have power cut saw their bills skyrocket, with some invoices soaring as high as $17,000 due to variable pricing plans.

"I saw the story about the high bills, let me explain that," Patrick said. "We have in Texas, you can choose your energy plan and most people have a fixed rate. If they had a fixed rate per kilowatt hour, their rates aren't going up. Now, their bill might be up because they used more energy because they had the heat up when they got the power back. But the people who are getting those big bills are people who gambled on a very, very low rate. And it would go up with the power."

"I've told those folks do not panic, we are going to figure that out" added Patrick. "But going forward, people need to read fine print in those kinds of bills. And we may even end that type of variable plan because people were surprised."

Dan Patrick Texas Power Energy Crisis Bills
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks to the media at the state Capitol in Austin, Texas on May 18, 2020. Lynda M. Gonzalez/Getty

Patrick went on to say that he expected to "get to the bottom of this" and remedy the situation "once and for all." Texas has a deregulated energy market and is one of a minority of states to allow the variable plans. It is not clear exactly how the state intends to help residents pay the unusually large bills, but multiple GOP politicians have suggested using federal emergency funds to ease the financial burdens, according to The Guardian.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas issued an order to suspend electricity "disconnections for non-payment until further notice" on Sunday, while indicating that the order is "intended to be temporary." The commission also ordered companies to offer deferred payment plans to customers upon request, a measure previously put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The failure of the Texas energy grid due to the winter blast, coming after state officials failed to enforce a 2011 federal recommendation that energy plants be winterized, has led to calls for increasing regulations, usually an unpopular suggestion in the Republican-controlled state. An analysis published Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal found that Texas consumers have seen their electricity bills balloon by $28 billion due to deregulation since 2004.

Newsweek reached out to Patrick's office for comment.

Correction (2/24/2020, 11:30 p.m.): The headline for this article erroneously said Patrick thought Texas "deserved" the high power bills for not reading the fine print. Newsweek regrets the error.