Texas: Death Toll, Electricity Bills Rise in Wake of Winter Storm

By Nélida Tello

Two weeks have passed since the capitalist-caused winter disaster hit Texas, leaving millions without basic utilities for days along with a rising death toll. Despite power and normal temperatures returning, many have been left to grieve loved ones, deal with thousands of dollars of debt, and remain in unlivable conditions without water or with severe damages to their homes.

The death toll in Texas has reached 70 and is expected to continue to increase. 11-year-old Christian Pavon was one of the youngest killed during the unnatural disaster as his family went two days without power in their mobile home. Christian’s family, among others, are in the process of suing the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for the untimely death of their young son.

ERCOT is a private nonprofit firm that manages the flow of electricity throughout the state. It is currently facing a class-action lawsuit which will decide whether the organization will continue to have sovereign immunity, a protection usually granted to governmental agencies which no other grid operator in the country has. If ERCOT wins, they cannot be sued even though they were responsible for the ‘rolling’ blackouts with left millions without power for days, resulting in at least 70 deaths.

As ERCOT faces public scrutiny for its failure to prepare for the winter storm, CEO Bill Magness has been fired and five board members have resigned. DeAnn Walker, chairwoman for Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUC), the governmental body that is supposed to oversee ERCOT, also resigned earlier this week. The firing and resigning of those managing ERCOT and the PUC is an empty gesture—as long as profit is the driving force behind basic necessities, capitalists will continue to cut corners at the expense of the working class. Two similar winter storms have hit Texas in the past and nothing was done by the capitalists who own the transmission lines and power plants to prevent such crises from happening again.

Private energy retailers like Griddy sell energy to people under the guise of being cheaper than fixed rates. Those who buy energy from Griddy have been hit with thousands of dollars in energy bills due to the wholesale price of electricity skyrocketing as demand increased. One elderly Griddy customer was charged more than $4,000 for the amount of energy consumed during the week of the winter storm, as no warning was given to their customers before money was auto-debited from bank accounts.

Living conditions for many, especially for those who live in apartments, have not improved since the storm. Burst water pipes have left people’s homes and apartments uninhabitable. Landlords refuse to fix pipes due to the rising cost of plumbers and materials like copper pipes. Many tenants are still currently without water and many others have had their contracts terminated early.

With so many suffering, even after weather conditions have returned to normal, working class people are realizing that they are left without any kind of recourse against those who have caused them so many problems. While some have put their hopes in legal action, the state is still deciding whether or not those responsible can even be held to account. At the end of the day, this system is built to protect these private companies—only with the overthrow of the capitalist system can the working class truly secure the basic necessities of human life without the threat of these being pulled away at a moment’s notice.

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