United Cooperative Services takes actions to support members in aftermath of historic winter storm

E-T staff report
United Cooperative Services

United Cooperative Services’ Board of Directors earlier this week voted to approve measures intended to help the electric cooperative’s membership cope with challenges resulting from the Feb. 15-19 winter storm event in which the Electric Reliability Council of Texas mandated utilities to conduct controlled, rotating outages, according to a news release from the cooperative. 

During this unprecedented weather event, member electricity usage reached record levels due to the constantly frigid temperatures. Relief measures include the following and will be in place through March 31, 2021:

• Suspension of disconnect for non-pay

• Relaxing deposit requirements

• Suspension of late fees

• Offering deferred payment plans

An additional measure will be to maintain the current power costs from United’s power supplier Brazos Electric Cooperative. While this measure will be in place for several months while Brazos determines the full extent of the winter event on its wholesale power charges, United will not make any changes at this time. If a change becomes necessary as a result of Brazos’ wholesale power costs, United would make any necessary change gradual to minimize the impact to members, the release states.

“This winter event caused the wholesale price of electricity on the ERCOT market to reach the maximum level of $9 per kWh and remain at that level for days,” United CEO Cameron Smallwood said in the release. “To put that in perspective, our residential members, on average and based on usage, pay less than $0.10 per kWh. While we don’t know the full extent of how that cost surge will affect Texas utilities like United, we understand that members’ usage saw a large spike during this high-cost time frame. We will continue to work with our members to mitigate the effects of this event now and in the future,” he added.

United has been and will stay involved in discussions with state legislators on this issue. In addition, United was scheduled to implement a 6.1% rate adjustment to its delivery rate (not the power cost associated with ERCOT wholesale prices) in April, but the board of directors unanimously voted to postpone that until the fall.

“We’ve been discussing our planned distribution rate adjustment with members for a year, but we’re a cooperative and we look out for our members and, while this will go into effect in the fall, now simply isn’t the right time,” said United Board President Patsy Dumas.

The relief measures are similar to those approved by United’s board last year when COVID19 created financial hardships on the cooperative’s members. United’s deposit protocol, on average, requires approximately two months’ average billing, but that has been reduced to approximately a one-month average billing.

Additional relief measures implemented by United included funding to member-support agencies through United’s Operation Round Up program. These agencies, which can be found on the cooperative’s website at www.ucs.net/assistance, can provide bill payment aid for qualifying members.