Texas Blackout: Tesla Saves, Griddy Backfires
On the morning of February 15, 2021, my home along with millions of other Texans' went dark. Our power started failing around 2AM and 3AM, but at 6:45AM, the power went out for good. It wouldn't be until some 31 hours later that our power was restored. While the news headlines are highlighting truly insane $1,000, $2,000 or even $5,000 electric bills for the week, I'm not terribly concerned that my family's power bill will increase much.
In Texas, you get to choose your electric provider. My family is on a "free nights" plan with Direct Energy. Our local distribution company is Oncor. Our Direct Energy peak power rate is $0.15 per kilowatt hour (kWh) from 9AM-9PM, and our Oncor delivery fee is $0.04/kWh. But, from 9PM-9AM at nights, our power is free.
We've been very happy with our bills. Normally, we charge our Tesla at night, adjust our home's thermostat to reduce energy use during the day, run our dishes at night, and have our hot water tank attached to a timer. Our highest bill this past year was $92 for 1,700 kWh in August 2020, followed by our lowest bill ever: $3.23 for 1,493 kWh in September. All told, our power bills last year cost $552.44, or about $46 for 1,400 kWh per month. Here's our bill in January:
On February 14th, I was following the news on #energytwitter that Texas was in for a deep freeze. I downloaded the ERCOT App, to see what our state's grid operator was forecasting. I could very plainly see that ERCOT was anticipating running out of power that afternoon. I coordinated with our local Tesla club, the North Texas Tesla Owners Club, and around noon on Sunday we sent out an email to all club members warning of the potential of a blackout.
The next morning, the power went out. Temperatures outside reached zero degrees. We pulled our window blinds to conserve heat and slept in the same room. We escaped to our Tesla for warmth and recharging cell phones and electronics (to keep the kids occupied). We used our Tesla sparingly, and got down to around 70 miles worth of range remaining. The house got down to about 50 degrees inside; thankfully, our investments in insulation and upgraded windows helped keep the cold out, and the warm in.
When the power came back on around 2:45PM February 16th, we scurried to charge our phones, the Tesla, and to bring the house back up to a reasonable temperature. Like most Texans, we weren't sure for how much longer we would have power. The ERCOT App showed that we could lose power again any minute. So even though it was during our peak pricing time, we needed to get warm again. Everything turned on: our heat pump, the Tesla, the electric hot water tank, everything. I wanted to make sure our Tesla escape pod was available if the power went out, again. On February 16th, the day the power came back, we used 81 kWh's in seven hours.
The power never went out again. It came on, and stayed on. By February 17th, I commenced our normal routine of using power at night. Compared to the previous day, we used just 14 kWh's during those same seven hours. For February 14-17th, we used a total of 129 kWh's during our peak hour time at $0.19/kWh. I'm anticipating our electric bill will be increasing by about $25. That's 54% of our annual average monthly bill in a matter of four days.
But it was absolutely worth it.
So why are we hearing about thousand-dollar electric bills in Texas? Well, there's this company in Texas called Griddy. Griddy charges a monthly service fee (Direct Energy does too, it's $9.95/month), but instead of giving a clear rate schedule, Griddy passes on the full wholesale power price of the ERCOT market directly to the customer. That's their whole shtick. They don't offer any other types of plan. If you choose Griddy, you absolutely choose to be exposed to the market. Normally, Texas' wholesale power prices are around $0.02-$0.05/kWh, so very reasonable and a customer can save a lot of money if they're conscientious about the market prices. But also in Texas, the wholesale power market can reach a whopping $9,000 per megawatt hour (MWh), or $9.00/kWh. It's not often that occurs, but it did occur last summertime. Griddy customers last summer were throwing their main breaker panel switch to reduce household power usage, just to save money. In true Texas fashion: you play with the bull, you might get the horns.
Just prior to the Great Blackout, Griddy was contacting their customers, warning them of the impending price surge up to $9,000/MWh, and highly recommending that they stop using Griddy as a service provider. Griddy was begging their customers: Leave. They knew it'd be a PR disaster for them (and they were right). But, they weren't the only company to warn their customers to find a better rate plan before the market went crazy. If my family were on Griddy, and the power prices were even half the top price ($4.50/kWh), our electric bill for February 14-17 would be $1,579.50. Instead, it should be about $25 higher.
There are likely to be hundreds or thousands of Griddy customers that are unable or unwilling to pay their February electric bill. News reports pegged Griddy customers at 29,000, but it's unclear if that was before the mass exodus of customers. Some Griddy customers had a hard time leaving Griddy, or they weren't aware of the impending disaster. But when the power went out, and came back on, I'm sure Griddy customers felt the same way I did: I'd better use the power while I've got it. Hopefully the Texas Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the Retail Energy Providers like Griddy and Direct Energy, will figure out some solution to ease the pain of a truly horrific week.
Here in Texas, we can access our smart meter data easily through www.smartmetertexas.com. That's how I was able to pull my meter data quickly, and easily. It also helped me decide which electric rate plan to be on. As a result, we chose a Free Nights Plan with Direct Energy. We've shifted about 80% of our power usage to night.
Get $50 for everyone you refer to Direct Energy and they get $50 too. Just tell them to include your Referral ID: 3Q1LQ6 when they enroll. Go to directenergy.com/refer-a-friend for details.