Family sues Texas power companies for $100m over death of boy, 11

Cristian Pavon’s family says ‘gross negligence’ caused death by ‘hypothermia’, as Texans receive sky-high energy bills.

Vehicles drive on snow and sleet-covered roads on Monday, February 15, 2021, in Spring, Texas [File: David J Phillip/AP Photo]

The family of an 11-year-old boy who died during the Texas winter storm and the ensuing blackouts is suing the state’s grid operator and energy company Entergy for $100m as Texans begin to see exorbitant energy bills.

Cristian Pavon was found unresponsive by his mother, Maria Elisa Pineda, in their Houston-area mobile home last Tuesday, which was unheated due to the storm. At least 58 people have died across the US as a result of the storm, though the number is expected to rise.

The lawsuit says Pavon died as a result of hypothermia. The coroner has not released a cause of death.

A man walks to his friend’s home in a neighbourhood without electricity as snow covers the BlackHawk neighbourhood in Pflugerville, Texas, on February 15, 2021 [Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman/USA Today Network via Reuters]

The lawsuit, filed by lawyer Tony Buzbee, alleges gross negligence and claims decisions involved in Texas’ for-profit energy system caused Pavon’s death.

Texas has its own, deregulated energy grid operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) that was long heralded as an example of market-based solutions by the state’s conservative lawmakers.

The strain caused by the historic winter storm has called this characterisation into question.

“These decisions, which led to deaths, were made based on profit, not welfare of people. People died. ERCOT and the electrical providers like Entergy must account,” Buzbee told ABC affiliate KTRK.

“We haven’t yet reviewed the lawsuits and will respond accordingly once we do. Our thoughts are with all Texans who ‘have and are’ suffering due to this past week,” ERCOT said in a Saturday statement.

Price surges

Texans, millions of whom were without power for almost one week, are beginning to see skyrocketing energy bills.

The surge in pricing is hitting people who have chosen to pay wholesale prices for their power, which is typically cheaper than paying fixed rates during good weather, but can spike when there is high demand for electricity.

Many of those who have reported receiving large bills are customers of electricity provider Griddy, which only operates in Texas.

Wholesale electricity prices fluctuate based on demand. Because natural gas pipelines and wind turbines froze up in Texas, there was less power available, but high demand for electricity, causing wholesale prices to shoot up, Joshua Rhodes, an energy research associate at the University of Texas, told the Associated Press.

Wholesale prices are typically as low as a couple of cents per kilowatt-hour but spiked to $9 per kilowatt-hour after the storm.

Fixed-rate customers pay a set amount that does not rise as much. Typically, they pay around 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. But Rhodes said fixed-rate customers could see their price rise by a few cents later this year as companies hit by the icy conditions look to recoup their costs – but their bills will not be in the thousands.

People are able to pay wholesale prices in Texas because it is one of the only states that allows customers to pick which company they buy power from, Rhodes said.

Griddy said it has 29,000 members. It is unclear how many other Texans also pay wholesale prices from other companies. Some energy providers bill every other month, so the full picture of increased costs is yet to be seen.

Texas will hold hearings into how energy was cut for millions later this week.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Sunday that he is working with members of the legislature to address skyrocketing energy bills and “find ways that the state can help reduce this burden”. No further details were given.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies