North Texans have been seared by record-breaking heat this summer, and now many are getting burned by high electricity bills, too.
In an economy with surging inflation, Dallas-Fort Worth residents are beginning to see the additional costs associated with staying cool in unrelenting triple-digit temperatures. Some customers say their electricity bills are frustratingly high. For those who are physically or financially vulnerable, the combination of high costs and extreme weather can be deadly.
“I’m like, ‘this is just ridiculous. I’m not going to be able to eat after a while,’” said Avery Anderson, a TXU Energy customer whose July electricity bill for her three-bedroom home in DeSoto is $475. She said she’s feeling “a little defeated with sticker shock” and putting in her best effort to conserve electricity, with her thermostat at 78 degrees — just enough to keep her puppy, Beignet, “somewhat comfortable.”
Cooling a home during the hottest months of the year takes more electricity than when the weather is mild, and that can account for two-thirds of customers’ electricity usage, said TXU Energy spokesperson Meranda Cohn. The heat, increased electricity consumption and higher prices have created financial pressure for many people.
Most TXU customers, like many people across North Texas, are on fixed contracts, and those bills might not yet reflect higher energy costs. But Texans who must renew their electricity plans are seeing rates that have surged over 70% compared with last year, rising with the price of natural gas, which fuels power plants that generate much of the state’s electricity.
Anderson, the TXU customer in DeSoto, is paying 21 cents per kilowatt hour on a plan that includes discounts for the days when she uses the most electricity each month. Earlier this month, she paid $305.27 for her June bill. A few days later, the next bill rolled in: $474.84. She said her bill rarely exceeds $100. Anderson said she’s now having to figure out how to prioritize her bills.
“It’s just disheartening,” Anderson said. “I think about me, but then I know there are people who even have less than I do and I just can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
Many Texans, especially older ones, need reliable power to run medical equipment, AARP Texas State Director Tina Tran said.
“It’s not even a question of really having a temperature that’s comfortable,” Tran said. “It can be a matter of life or death for a lot of Texans.”
With higher temperatures, higher electricity bills and the increasing cost of consumer goods, Tran said, “older Texans on fixed incomes are really getting squeezed beyond a breaking point of what they can afford.”
Summer utility bills are a yearly concern that needs a long-term fix from the state, she said, but in the short term, there are steps Texans can take to get through the summer.
Talk to the retail electric company
If you’ve received a bill you will struggle to pay, contacting your electricity provider could be beneficial. Customers may have the option to switch plans or create a payment plan.
For example, TXU is offering payment extensions or deferrals, and installment plans.
“We’re here to help and there are many options and resources available,” Cohn said.
TXU says it may waive late penalty fees for customers on SNAP or Medicaid and it may waive deposit requirements or allow customers to split deposits into two payments.
Shop for a lower rate
Texas’ deregulated electricity market means choosing a different plan could save you money, and bills can get complicated, with several factors contributing to the price you pay.
Check the facts labels and terms of service to understand the pricing plan. Some plans have fixed or variable rates, recurring and nonrecurring charges, taxes and other fees contributing to the bill.
Anderson said she’s been a TXU customer for years, and the company provides good service, but now she’s rethinking her loyalty.
“I particularly don’t like changing or hopping from one utility company to the next,” she said. “I want to find a company that’s going to give me good service and I really want to stay with that company.”
Dallas Morning News columnist Dave Lieber offers a guide on how to shop for electricity. Lieber recommends using the state’s PowertoChoose.org as a start, and to check a company’s history for complaints. But there are several other factors to be considered, which can be found in the guide.
Readers also sent Lieber tips for electricity shopping, sharing their strategies and the websites they used to find better electricity plans.
Tran and TXU both recommend visiting 211texas.org or calling 2-1-1 to find local social services and aid for electricity bills. For eligible participants, financial aid programs are available and some nonprofits also provide assistance.
For example, North Dallas Shared Ministries does not expect to turn anyone down for utility assistance as long as clients meet application guidelines, based on proof of verifiable income and residency within the organization’s service area.
Dallas County participates in the state’s Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program, or CEAP, which helps low-income households meet immediate energy needs. The city has a program that offers emergency help with utility bills or rent to those in temporary financial crisis.
And Fort Worth’s Community Action Partners program administers CEAP funding to help Tarrant County families with low or fixed incomes pay their utility bills.
A state program designed to help low-income Texans pay their utility bills, Texas Utility Help, stopped taking applications for energy assistance just two weeks after launching July 7 and experiencing overwhelming demand.
Anderson said she’s run into the caveat of needing to qualify for aid. “For the person who just needs a little help, like myself, to get from one month to the next, there’s no help,” she said.
Make changes to conserve
Electricity companies also say reducing your usage can save money, and air conditioning is the biggest driver. Raising the thermostat temperature when it’s hot by 4 degrees can reduce usage by as much as 20%, according to TXU.
The company has a guide that shows which appliances typically use the most electricity. (The fridge and the dryer are among the usual suspects.) Other tips include turning blinds upward to reduce incoming heat, running fans counter-clockwise, and changing air filters.
Tran, with AARP, said in the longer term, Texans should look at ways to make their homes more energy efficient, such as weatherizing windows and doors, or even replacing lightbulbs.
Anderson said she normally conserves electricity, but when she got her last bill, she made sure the temperature was set at a straight 78 degrees. She keeps her blinds and curtains closed. And she closes bedrooms off when she leaves the home. She also added do-it-yourself insulation to her windows to help maintain the temperature.
She’s looking forward to milder weather, when she can open her windows and relax.
“Right now, I’m just trying to suck it up and pay what’s here and then make adjustments with other things,” Anderson said. “I’m just trying to cut corners in other areas to make up for it, for right now. I just think everybody is feeling the pinch.”