Top state officials held a press conference Monday to assure the public that they are on top of the looming utility bill crisis facing Oklahoma consumers following last week’s record cold snap.
The event was supposed to assure the public, but anyone who watched could easily have walked away with an even greater sense of panic.
This was clear: The state’s top elected and appointed officials largely don’t know what they’re going to do — if anything — and the best assurances they had to offer were only modestly assuring.
State Energy Secretary Kenneth Wagner said almost everyone in the state doesn’t have to worry about one huge utility bill wiping out their bank account because state electrical and natural gas suppliers turned to the hyperinflated spot market during the cold weather crisis.
By almost everyone, he clarified, there are some people — really very few — who might have that problem (if they buy natural gas from a municipal utility that buys from an unregulated supplier).
But for the vast majority, especially customers of the major utilities, he offered the assurance that they’ll only have to pay huge bills that result from their higher usage of electricity and natural gas, not the additional cost of the underlying fuel ... at least right away.
The state is working with the big utilities to spread those cost out over time, he said.
So, expect bigger bills, but not BIGGER bill... right now. Feeling better?
Gov. Kevin Stitt promised to “turn over every rock” in the effort to figure out what went wrong, a statement that showed intensity but not specifics.
Top legislative leaders said they were assigning their top utility legislators to figure out how the state could help consumers facing higher costs, but, in the next breath, made it clear they have no idea what that might mean.
Attorney General Mike Hunter said his office will go after anyone who violated the state’s anti-gouging law after Stitt signed an official emergency order Feb. 12, but he also noted that his powers only apply to businesses inside the state of Oklahoma.
We’re not sure what we wanted to hear Monday, but what we did hear certainly didn’t make us feel secure that millions of Oklahomans won’t be feeling the bite of last week’s arctic cold in a very big way for a very long time come.
We don’t want to bankrupt utilities, but we also don’t want to see a consumer financial crisis following the weather crisis. It seems safe to assume that such a nightmare will fall hardest on the poor, the elderly and those least able to deal with it, but it will be felt in all 77 counties and all income levels, just like the weather.