SAN ANTONIO — In an address preceded by the unloading of several crates of water for south Texas residents still recovering from this week’s historic storms, Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday that the state continues to distribute aid to Texans while leaders also discuss strategies to ensure its energy system isn’t crippled by weather again in the future.
The governor said progress continues to be made on amending local power outages. He expects electricity “will be restored to every house later tonight or early tomorrow.”
As Texans’ lights come on and heating returns, of most immediate concern to millions is access to consumable water and the potential for exorbitant electricity bills.
On those fronts, Abbott said that about 3.4 million bottles of water have been delivered so far by road and air, as part of a coordinated effort between the Texas National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Discussions have already been underway among state leaders intent on finding ways to alleviate the financial burden on those who are facing high bills, which comes after Texas emergency managements officials admitted they weren't ready for this week's storms to pummel the state and drain resources in the way that they did.
Food, water crisis across Texas
The power is back on, but boil water advisories remain in effect for millions of people across Texas. Bottled water and food are in short supply, and residents are dealing with the mess left behind by broken water pipes.
On Sunday, Abbott said he plans to request a disaster declaration from U.S. Department of Agriculture to help farmers.
Abbott has already signed a waiver allowing alcoholic beverage companies to use their truck to deliver non-alcoholic grocery supplies, including bottled water and other necessities, to grocery stores in Texas.
The governor's office said these delivery vehicles can help expedite the restocking of products in grocery stores across the state.
Power back on, but energy industry under microscope
When it comes to concerns about massive bills, Texans can rest easy for now; Abbott said the state is issuing a moratorium on disconnecting customers’ power if they are unable to make payments, and electrical providers are temporarily restricted from sending customers invoices.
“This pause will give (utility providers) time to address the electric and power billing challenges that Texans are seeing,” said Abbot, who called skyrocketing electricity costs a top priority. “We will not end the (legislative) session until the State of Texas, and all its power generation facilities, are fully winterized so this doesn’t happen again.”
The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) launched an investigation into the power outage to millions of Texas homes. Watch their open meeting.
The PUC also waived deadlines on the Provider of Last Resort program in which retail electric providers volunteer to accept the customers of other providers leaving the market. These “volunteer” providers are required to charge a competitive rate, rather than the higher so-called provider of last resort rate.” The changes include:
- Extending the registration deadline for REPs willing to serve as a volunteer providers in order to expand the pool of available providers.
- Delaying customer transitions to volunteer providers until Wednesday, February 24, 2021 to allow the new POLR REPs time to register and prepare for the influx of new customers.
Environmental Protection Agency has issued waivers to increase access to gasoline and diesel fuel in certain Texas communities impacted by winter weather. These waivers temporarily allow for the use of an additional or alternate type of fuel for Texas Low Emissions Diesel and oxygenated gasoline fuels.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality submitted a request for these waivers Friday, according to the governor's office.
President Biden approves major disaster declaration
President Joe Biden has approved Texas' request for a major disaster declaration, making federal funding available for people affected by the winter storm.
Brazoria, Brazos, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, Polk, Walker, Waller and Wharton counties are all included in the declaration.
Abbott thanked the president, saying it's a big step for the state's recovery.
"I thank President Biden for his assistance as we respond to impacts of winter weather across our state," said Governor Abbott in a release Saturday. "While this partial approval is an important first step, Texas will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure all eligible Texans have access to the relief they need. The funds provided under the Major Disaster Declaration may provide crucial assistance to Texans as they begin to repair their homes and address property damage.”
Biden said he doesn't want to distract from relief efforts, but will visit Texas soon when possible.