Pay Bills

New Braunfels residents question skyrocketing utility bills

Timothy Davis said his overall New Braunfels Utilities utility bill was double what it was this time last year.

He reconfigured the family’s air conditioning system and installed attic vents to cut costs, but his most recent electric bill was around $496, even with those adjustments.

“We were caught off guard,” Davis, 45, said of the bill shock this summer.

Davis was one of 60 people seeking answers about the reasons for rising electric bills at a New Braunfels Utility forum on Wednesday night. The utility also held a morning forum and broadcast the presentations live this explains why people’s bills have been higher than usual.

The average customer spent about $195 on electricity in July 2021, but that amount rose to about $272 in July, an increase of almost 40%. Bills were higher than usual all summer with record high temperatures, but July was the hardest hit for most customers.

NBU CEO Ian Taylor blamed record summer temperatures that increased customer electricity use, a rise in natural gas prices, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ more conservative approach to network management.

Davis is a member of New Braunfels Citizens for Responsible Growtha group formed to “stand up” to the city council and advocate for issues such as increased police and parks before high density apartments in the community.

Like Davis, band member Cheryl Aguirre, 43, said her overall utility bill in July also doubled to $1,000, including $534 for her electricity.

David Hubbard, second from left, chief administrative officer of NBU, answers questions during an electrical community forum presented by New Braunfels Utilities on Wednesday.

Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News/Staff Photographer

“It was very unexpected,” Aguirre said. “We can afford to pay it, but it certainly has an impact on our expenses. I mean, I don’t expect to pay a second mortgage. … I had to budget for errands for the month, because most of it goes to energy costs.

Husband and wife Brian Pederson and Julie Schueller said their last electric bill was around $220. They moved to New Braunfels in January, but said they got used to paying around $150 this time of year when they lived in Bexar County.

While the rising costs haven’t caused them much financial trouble, the couple said they’re worried about others who can’t easily cope with a price hike like this.

They plan to turn to solar energy for their house to reduce their bill.

Understand the bill

Average temperatures this year May, June and July were more than five degrees warmer than anything experienced in the past decade. The high heat prompted more people to use their air conditioners at the same time as electricity prices rose across the state.

The Texas Tribune reported that many people across the state are paying at least 50% more than last year for electricity, largely due to the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the electricity market energy. The price of natural gas has risen more than 200% since this invasion, and Texas is exporting more natural gas than usual.

But natural gas isn’t the only culprit. Taylor said after winter storm Uri, ERCOT took a more conservative approach to operating the network to increase reliability.

NBU's Rob Aleman answers questions from Wayne Rudolph during an Electrical Community Forum presented by New Braunfels Utilities on Wednesday, August 24, 2022. Breakout sessions provided customers with information on conservation, rebates, payment plans, solar energy and many more topics.

NBU’s Rob Aleman answers questions from Wayne Rudolph during an Electrical Community Forum presented by New Braunfels Utilities on Wednesday, August 24, 2022. Breakout sessions provided customers with information on conservation, rebates, payment plans, solar energy and many more topics.

Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News/Staff Photographer

“When you prioritize reliability, it comes at a cost,” Taylor said, explaining that ERCOT is doing more now to increase the amount of its reserves and is paying to ensure generators are ready to go online. if necessary. “So it costs more, but the network is more stable.”

NBU is still feeling the effects of winter storm Uri.

When the winter storm hit, NBU spent $93 million on electricity, completely depleting its $43 million in cash reserves and forcing officials to incur $50 million in debt to make up the difference.

From March 2021 to July, Taylor said NBU collected all $50 million from customers to repay that debt. The average customer’s bill included a fee of about $25 per month to make this possible.

But it will be years before winter storm Uri is entirely in the city’s rearview mirror. The NBU is now working to replenish the reserves it has run through. Since the utility spent as much as its annual budget on electricity during the week-long storm, it is trying to save the cost of 365 days of electricity, or about $120 million.

Taylor estimates that it will take until 2030 to achieve this goal. In 2023, the average customer will spend $15.60 per month to replenish these reserves, and it will cost $9 per month from 2024 to 2030.

For now though, NBU has suspended collections for reserves in August and September to relieve customers after months of high bills.

NBU CEO Ian Taylor speaks at an Electrical Community Forum presented by New Braunfels Utilities Wednesday, August 24, 2022. Breakout sessions provided customers with information on conservation, discounts, payment plans, solar energy and many other topics.

NBU CEO Ian Taylor speaks at an Electrical Community Forum presented by New Braunfels Utilities Wednesday, August 24, 2022. Breakout sessions provided customers with information on conservation, discounts, payment plans, solar energy and many other topics.

Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News/Staff Photographer

Taylor apologized to customers at Wednesday’s forums for not suspending the cost of paying winter storm debt sooner.

A major point of confusion and concern for NBU customers has been an Electricity Cost Recovery Adjustment, or PCRA, charged to each person’s bill. Taylor said the charge is a variable rate that reflects the cost of purchasing power.

The PCRA is made up of the costs of winter storm Uri and a portion of what it costs to pay for electricity generation. Since things like rising natural gas prices can affect the cost of energy, the ECRP can fluctuate from month to month, depending on the market.

A petition circulating on change.org to remove or reduce PCRA fees from NBU bills. About 3,700 people supported him on Thursday.

But Taylor said it’s impossible to do away with the PCRA altogether, and the most the utility can do to reduce it is to temporarily suspend fundraising to replenish supplies after the winter storm.

However, the term PCRA may disappear as the NBU seeks to reformat its bill to give a more detailed breakdown of all costs.

NBU has not disconnected customers for non-payment all summer and currently does not have a date set for the resumption of disconnections. Customers who require billing assistance or would like a flexible payment plan can contact NBU for more information.

[email protected]