State leaders have held emergency meetings after Texas residents were hit with eye-watering electricity bills after the state’s record-breaking cold freeze, which killed dozens of people and crippled road networks and businesses.
While some four million residents dealt with extended power outages and a disrupted water service, those who were able to keep the lights on face five-day bills of $US5000 ($6332).
US senator Ted Cruz, who was forced to cut short a family holiday to Mexico after public outrage, also distanced himself from what is a highly unregulated energy market he had previously praised.
“This is WRONG,” Mr Cruz wrote on Twitter.
“No power company should get a windfall because of a natural disaster, and Texans shouldn’t get hammered by ridiculous rate increases for last week’s energy debacle.
“State and local regulators should act swiftly to prevent this injustice.”
In invoices posted to social media, angry Texans revealed how providers whacked them with exorbitant bills simply for running heating systems and refrigerators, charging up to $US1000 ($1266) a day for the privilege.
The Dallas Morning News reported one provider, Griddy, urged its thousands of customers to switch suppliers ahead of the storm to avoid high prices, but many said it would take too long to swap to a new plan.
In an interview with CBS News on Monday (AEDT) Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said “the bill should go to the state of Texas”.
“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.”
The latest setback for Texas came as US President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration, making federal funding available across the state, including assistance for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans.
Mr Biden is also weighing a trip to Texas to survey the federal response to the first new crisis to develop since he took office a month ago.
The White House is working closely with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who did not initially acknowledge Mr Biden’s November election win.
Mr Abbott called an emergency meeting to discuss the problem, saying the state had a responsibility to ensure Texans “do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills”.
He said the Texas Public Utilities Commission would order electricity companies to pause sending customers electricity bills, which was also issuing a temporary moratorium on disconnection for non-payment.
All the state’s power plants had returned to service, although more than 195,000 homes remained without electricity on Friday morning, and residents of 160 of Texas’ 254 counties had water service disruptions, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Residents sit in freezing homes
One Texas resident’s parents, who used the power provider Griddy, wrote on social media said her family “immediately realised their electricity bill was rising, so turned everything off.
“My parents use Griddy and immediately realized their electric bill was skyrocketing so they shut everything down. They had power throughout the entire storm and aftermath, but still sat there in the freezing cold for days cause they couldn’t afford to turn on the heat.”
Another user shared their “updated Griddy bill”.