By Gary McWilliams
HOUSTON (Reuters) – Texas’s grid operator on Friday shut Griddy Energy LLC’s access to the state’s power network for unpaid bills and shifted its 10,000 customers to other utilities, as new signs of a financial crisis rose after a state-wide blackout.
Griddy was the power marketer that sold consumers electricity at wholesale rates, which rose to $9,000 per megawatt hour as cold weather struck the state last week. Unable to cope with demand, utilities cut power to 4.3 million residents as temperatures fell below freezing.
Grid operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) “effectively shut down Griddy,” the electricity marketer said in a statement on its website. Requests for further comment were not returned.
ERCOT separately said $2.1 billion of its service bills went unpaid from utility and other grid users on Friday, another sign of the devastation from high electricity rates during the cold snap.
Griddy’s statement said it accounted for “a tiny fraction” of ERCOT’s unpaid bills.
ERCOT was transferring about 10,100 Griddy customers to others on Friday. Retail power providers that do not pay invoices within 72 hours can have all their customers reassigned.
The grid operator’s handling of the severe weather fueled a firestorm of criticism from residents and state officials who blamed ERCOT for lack of preparation for the severe cold. ERCOT called on utilities to cut power to protect the grid, which left 4.3 million people without heat or light and led to billions of dollars in damages.
ERCOT will likely face more shortfalls in coming days, said Patrick Woodson, chief executive of power marketer Green Energy Exchange. His firm is among nine companies protesting multimillion dollar blackout fees levied by ERCOT.
“The price of surviving the first wave of these high bills is you get hit with additional costs in the second wave,” said Woodson. ERCOT spreads unpaid fees among remaining grid users.
The grid operator said it will cover $800 million of the shortfall by borrowing from internal accounts, and will draw an undisclosed amount from grid users with credit balances. An ERCOT spokeswoman did not reply to requests for comment.
Vistra Corp., the largest retail electric provider in the United States, said its TXU unit in Texas “volunteered to take on significantly more customers” expecting a wave of transfers after the outages.
“There often are opportunities to acquire retailers after events of volatility. As always, we will continue to be opportunistic when looking to purchase smaller customer books,” spokeswoman Meranda Cohn said in an email.
Seven of ERCOT’s 15 directors resigned this week and a nominee withdrew. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said public anger was justified and blamed ERCOT for not acting faster to keep generators from going offline.
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