TEXAS, USA — Elizabeth Dietz is a disabled veteran taking care of a newborn baby in Killeen. She currently has power in her home to keep warm, but she isn't using it.
She says it's too expensive. She's been charged over $3,000 in three days.
If you are on a variable rate plan, or aren't sure about your plan, check it immediately. Dietz started checking her daily costs Sunday and couldn't believe what she was seeing.
"Sunday was $613, Monday was $1,200, Tuesday was $1,300," Dietz said. "For the month right now, it's well over $4,000."
Dietz has a variable rate plan with Griddy. She contacted customer support thinking a mistake had been made but got the following message emailed back from support staff:
"I completely understand your frustration at the moment. The ERCOT electricity market is currently experiencing extremely high pricing due to increased heating demand from the cold weather. At Griddy, we simply pass through the cost of wholesale electricity to our customers and only make money from our $9.99/month membership rate, no matter the price of electricity that we pass through from ERCOT," the email said.
Dietz also got another email stating, "Your well-being is more important than our bottom-line. Unless you are a Griddy energy-saving expert, we recommend you immediately switch to another provider due to these price surges."
Dietz won't be able to switch services until Monday.
"I've had to isolate me, the baby and the dogs downstairs, shut the doors upstairs. If you go to the main bedroom you can see your breath in the room," Dietz said. "My house is at 55 degrees with the furnace off. I'm having to use the fireplace."
6 News also reached out the Public Utility Commission of Texas to find out if this business practice was legitimate and ask what people could do in this situation. PUC Communications Director Andrew Barlow gave the following response via email:
"The viewer you mention is not alone in her predicament. The wholesale rate-based plans you describe can be tantalizing to consumers when the sales emphasis is placed on the possibility of very low rates during times of pleasant weather, but they can be financially devastating when harsh hot or cold weather creates scarcity in the wholesale energy market. As a rule, we encourage fixed-rate plans. They may not offer the super-low pleasant weather prices that are so attractive with those other plans, but they moderate risk throughout all seasons.
They are available for sale within the Texas retail market because that market is based on consumer choice.
While the PUC can offer no financial relief, she could check with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs who recently received a block grant from Washington DC that includes some relief funding for utility bills. She should also switch retail electric providers as soon as humanly possible."