Houston mayor says Texas should pay for residents' "exorbitant" energy bills

Mayor Sylvester Turner says the state government should foot the bill for high energy costs in the wake of a devastating storm.

Video Transcript

- We turn now to the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner. Good morning to you, Mr. Mayor.

SYLVESTER TURNER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

- I'm glad your power is on. President Biden says he wants to visit Texas when it's not a burden. Is that time now? And what federal resources does your city need?

SYLVESTER TURNER: Well, he certainly can come now. We certainly would welcome him, and he would not be a distraction neither a burden. Let me just say right now with so many homes across the city having pipes that burst because of the frigid weather and major leaks, major water damage, we need a lot of plumbing materials and supplies, like, right now.

We have a number of licensed plumbers, but could use even more. But the main thing is that even when plumbers are going out, it's very difficult to find the necessary materials and supplies. And we are needing water as well for people across the board.

- I want to talk about the core issue of electricity. But on the waterfront, the head of the water utility reports to you. Why wasn't that system better prepared for the cold? And what are you doing to fix it?

SYLVESTER TURNER: You have to bear in mind that the power outages and the water system are all interconnected. So it's not one versus the other. In addition, most of that when the power went out, we had to bring on even more generators in order to power our system. We have a very large system.

I am pleased to say at one point in time, the water pressure was below what we call 20 PSI. But as of now, the system has been normalized. The water pressure is above 50 PSI. And we have already taken samples, forward them to the state. And hopefully we can get a positive response that our system is fine and ready to go.

And that could come-- it could come later on today. It could come tomorrow. It could come on Tuesday, but we are hoping for the best.

- When it comes to the matter of electricity, the state did not push utilities to winterize the grid, the power lines, and the power plants. That cost money. And the power system, as you know, is powered by a mix of energy resources, fossil fuels, and green energy.

All this has gotten really politicized in the past week, which is why I'm laying it out. But for your constituents, they're going to have to pay to fix all this. Is that fair to stick them with the bill? Who pays for this?

SYLVESTER TURNER: Well, the answer is no. Let me just say this, all of what happened this past week was foreseeable and preventable. Back in 2011, when I was in the legislature, I filed a bill that would have required the public utility commission which oversees ERCOT, which manages our Texas grid, to ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts.

That is specifically what the bill say. I filed it. The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing. At the same time, our system in Texas is designed primarily for the summer heat and not necessarily for a winter event.

The reality is climate change is real. It is real. And these major storms can happen at any time. The system needs to be weatherized. You need to maintain adequate reserve. And we need to open up our Texas grid, because right now, we have a closed grid. We can't get generation from outside of the state because of our system.

And then it's a market-driven system. When the demand exceeds the supply, the cost that the generators can charge can go from a few thousand to 9,000 megawatts. All of this was foreseeable. I wrote about it in 2011. And so for these exorbitant costs, it's not the consumers who should assume that costs. They are not a fault--

- Well, who should then?

SYLVESTER TURNER: --for what happened this week. The bill should go to the state of Texas. The state of Texas--

- Well, that still goes taxpayers, no?

SYLVESTER TURNER: Well, they're-- there's a huge rainy day fund in the city of Houston. Ultimately, all of the dollars, the revenues that come in, whether it's the city, the state or the federal government, comes from the taxpayers.

Well, what I am saying for people in, for example, in this city or in other cities when they're getting these exorbitant electricity bills, and they're having to pay for their homes, repair their homes, they should not have to bear the responsibility of paying $1,000 a day or $2,000 a day. Those bills, those exorbitant costs should be borne by the state of Texas and not the individual consumers who did not cause this catastrophe this week.

- Very quickly, can you get vaccines back on track?

SYLVESTER TURNER: Vaccines started in the city of Houston yesterday. As of on Monday, February the 2nd, the major distribution, the FEMA site will open. There would be 6,000 vaccines per day for the next six to eight weeks.

In addition to our normal supply, I suspect that this coming week, we'll probably vaccine more than 100,000 people in the city of Houston. The people are resilient. I'm very proud of the people in the city of Houston, how they have come together.

And then we are putting together-- let me just add-- a special fund, relief fund, to assist people who don't have insurance, people who don't have the financial means to assist them in repairing the homes while we wait on the federal monies to come forward. And I want to thank the president for signing the disaster declaration. That will help out quite a bit.

- Mr. Mayor, thank you.