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Texas governor promises to address skyrocketing energy bills

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott gave an update Sunday to address how the state is dealing with the ongoing crises of skyrocketing energy bills, food shortages and lack of access to water after deadly winter weather crippled the state's infrastructure. Watch Abbott's press conference.

Video Transcript

- We want to take you to San Antonio, Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott is giving an update on the state's response to the power and water crisis after last week's deadly storm.

GREG ABBOTT: As of about an hour ago, there still remained about 30,000 Texans who did not have access to power. If they do not have access to power, the reason for it is because of their local power provider, where they still need to get hook ups or there could be power lines down. Based upon the speed that I've seen power get restored, I suspect that all power will be fully restored across the state of Texas to every house either later tonight or tomorrow.

After power, our next concern was to ensure that water is restored. You will hear more about water being restored shortly from the executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Bottom line is this. We are working-- we being the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the state of Texas-- we're working with cities as cities and localities work to get their water power back up and running. And we continued to get updates during the course of today, as well as last night, showing that the water is being restored to communities across the entire state.

Now, we understand the enormous challenges that our fellow Texans are facing right now because of either power outages or shortages of water. It's because of challenges like that that we gather here today. What's taking place today is something that has taken place before today. And that is you see aircraft like this that has been flying the water into Texas and then deployed across the state of Texas.

So far, the effort has been led by the Texas National Guard working with the Department of Defense and FEMA. Together, they have flown eight helicopters flying 25 missions, four airplanes flying 19 missions. And I do want to send my gratitude to North Carolina and Kentucky, who also sent aircraft to assist.

There have been a total of 162 truck deliveries that have delivered more than 2 million bottles of water. And through helicopters and airplanes, they have delivered more than 1.4 million bottles of water. As you can see today, there'll be millions more delivered.

The state is working with local communities to set up distribution locations. We are working in here in particular in Bexar County, but also working in all the counties around Bexar County, to make sure that in the rural regions, they have access to water just as much as people in Bexar County have water.

Another issue concerning water-- we're out here in above 60-degree weather where the sun is shining. Even though the sun may be shining on us, there are clouds looming over the lives of so many Texans right now because of busted pipes. We want to make sure that the state is stepping up to do everything that we can to help people in their homes who are trying to repair busted pipes.

One thing that we're doing is we are bringing in more plumbers. Plumbers will be in high demand. We want to make sure that we have a supply that can meet that demand. We urge everybody who may have broken pipes to call a plumber as quickly as possible.

Also, you need to be sure that you call your insurance agent as quickly as possible. Your insurance agent should be working with you. If you have homeowner's insurance or renter's insurance, they should be working with you to make sure those pipes get fixed.

If you do not have insurance, you may qualify for a FEMA reimbursement. We have had FEMA assistance granted by the federal government, and a part of that is individual assistance that will assist individuals whose homes or apartments have been harmed because of the winter storm. If so, you will need to document any type of loss that you have. You will need to be in contact with your local emergency response coordinator to make sure they have that information so that that calculus will be provided to the federal government so you can get a reimbursement.

In addition to water, we're also very concerned about making sure that we get food to the Texans who need it. There are so many Texans-- too many Texans-- who have gone hungry over the past few days. We are proud to see several things happen.

One is there were some grocery store shelves that were empty just a few days ago. One reason they were empty is because their delivery trucks were unable to get to those grocery stores. With the snow and ice being cleared off the roads, there have been truckload after truckload of food deliveries to stores across the entire state of Texas, including right here in Bexar County. Your grocery store shelves are getting restocked as we speak.

To assist that and to speed it up, I have suspended regulations to get more trucks on the road to deliver food and supplies. Also, I suspended regulations to get more kitchens to be able to prepare meals for Texans, as long as those kitchens follow Department of State Health Services' guidance on food safety. Also, I have requested a USDA disaster declaration to help agricultural producers. And the state is distributing meals ready to eat, blankets, and generators for anybody who needs access to those.

And let me mention one last topic, and that is something that is alarming Texans across the state. And that is skyrocketing electric and power bills. Texans who have suffered through days of freezing cold without power should not be subjected to skyrocketing energy bills due to a spike in the energy market. So I held an emergency meeting yesterday with legislative leaders to begin the legislative process to shield Texas families from unreasonable bills.

This is something that is being fast-tracked, that legislators are working on as we speak at this moment in time right now. We will have meetings this week to get to the bottom of this but also to provide relief and support to our fellow Texans. One thing that we had during that meeting-- it was very productive in the sense that it was a bipartisan meeting. And Senator Royce West, in particular, pointed out, we need to put partisan issues aside, work collaboratively together to deliver solutions for our fellow Texans.

Along those lines, as we are speaking, there's a meeting being held by the Texas Public Utilities Commission announcing this relief. The Texas Public Utilities Commission called an emergency meeting today to issue a moratorium on customer disconnections for nonpayments. They are also going to restrict electric providers from sending customer invoices at this time. And this pause will give them time to address the electric and power billing challenges that Texans are seeing. With that, I will pass things over to Chief Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

NIM KIDD: Thank you, Governor. And first, I want to thank the city of San Antonio, the city manager Erik Walsh here, and all the teams that he has brought together to help distribute water across the city and across the region. I'd like to thank also our Department of Defense partners and the Texas Military Department. The work that's been going on here around the clock has been phenomenal.

We will continue to bring safe drinking water into homes for as long as it takes. I also want to thank our FEMA partners. So far, just under 90,000 residents have called FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA or gone online to DisasterAssistance.gov and registered with FEMA. I've had many conversations with the FEMA regional administrator, and we are actively working to add additional counties for individual assistance as those damage assessments come in. Governor, we'll turn it over to General Norris now.

GREG ABBOTT: General?

TRACY NORRIS: Yes, sir. A couple of things General-- I'm sorry, sir, I called you General-- Governor Abbott mentioned already about the aircraft, we are adding four additional C-130s starting tomorrow from the active Air Force. And that additional C-130 will be coming out of North Carolina, and the C-12 will be coming out of Kentucky. And they will be here tomorrow, and they'll be into the rotation.

Some of the cities that we've already been delivering to is Abilene, Austin, Beaumont, La Grange, Nacogdoches, Corpus, Del Rio, Ellington, Galveston, Laredo, Longview, McAllen, San Antonio, Tyler, and even more. Also, we have-- from yesterday, we were at 32-- over 3,200 soldiers and airmen, Texas National Guard. Today, we had an additional 500 come in overnight. So sir, we have over 3,700 Army and Air, National Guardsmen out with over 265 transportation assets that are located in the six districts with the Department of Emergency Management. And we're taking our orders from TDEM of where they need to go.

GREG ABBOTT: Thank you, General. And we thank all those National Guard for their service and what they're doing. For you all to know, those brown trucks over in that direction, the water will be sent to those brown trucks. There are some helicopters down there that are Texas National Guard helicopters. They will be airlifting some of the water to the locations that the water will reach. Now for the executive director of the Texas Division of Environmental Quality.

TOBY BAKER: 48 hours ago, we were in dire straits, about 14.9 million Texans on a boil water notice. Last night, it really-- the night before last, it stabilized. We've seen about 5 million Texans come off of boil water notices in the last 48 hours. That's 215 systems that are now safe for your water to drink. Here in San Antonio, about 99% of the San Antonio Water Services service area has water. There's about 1/3 that still is on a boil water notice, so good news here, too.

Texas, I want you to thank your utility workers at the local level because what they're doing right now is super-hero status. They've been working 24 hours a day to get your water systems back on, and they are going to continue to do that. Here at TCQ, we're going to do the same thing.

We're focusing on the rural systems. As these big systems come off, we're going to try to get those utility workers to not stop and go help some of their smaller neighbors around them. So we will be working towards that as we go forward. Governor, that's all I've got right now unless you have questions.

GREG ABBOTT: Thank you. One thing that's very important right now is helping all of the hungry Texans. And we have so many people around the entire state of Texas that are stepping up and helping out, but one of the leaders in this efforts is the San Antonio Food Bank CEO Eric Cooper.

- Thank you.

- Thank you, Eric.

ERIC COOPER: Thank you for your quick response to this disaster. We've been-- truly, a disaster within a disaster, and we want to thank you for the work at the onset of COVID. Along with Nim Kidd and the Texas Department of Emergency Management, food banks throughout the state have been responding to the pandemic and this recent storm.

For us, here in San Antonio, the most heartbreaking experience for me was getting a call from a family who the husband and wife had tested positive for COVID, were quarantined, trying to keep their kids from getting the virus when their power and their water were shut off. In that cold night, those kids were trying to get in bed to get warm with the parents, and they were just saying, you can't come. You can't come in. This disaster, this week has been tough-- many residents throughout our city desperate.

We pivoted to hot meals just because so many families couldn't even prepare their food, had they had the groceries. All food banks are in need desperately of food and water at this time. Thank you for supporting Feeding Texas. FeedingTexas.org is the best way to get support to your local food bank in your community throughout the state. But it's our privilege to partner with our city of San Antonio and the state and so many others in this response to the disaster. Thank you, Governor.

GREG ABBOTT: Thanks so much to the food bank and what you're doing. We also have the city manager, Erik Walsh. Did you want to add anything, Erik?

ERIK WALSH: Governor, thank you very much. Just a quick update on what the city of San Antonio is doing, we purchased a half a million cases of water, started receiving delivery on Friday night. Yesterday, here in Bexar County in San Antonio, we have 13 water distribution sites and one right down the street from here. And we're also doing home deliveries to homebound seniors or cases of water, as well as working closely with the local housing authority. So this is very helpful. We're going to continue to push this water out to the community where they need it. Thank you.

GREG ABBOTT: Thank you, thank you for your leadership [INAUDIBLE] helping us in that effort is Congressman Tony Gonzales.

TONY GONZALES: Thank you for coming to San Antonio. I appreciate everything that you and your team have done during this crisis. You know, when the crisis hit, the community came together. Nonprofits, everyday neighbors came together, and that was great to see. What was also great to see was the federal government, the state government, and local government came together. And we see that today.

We have a DOD plan. We have the Texas National Guard that's getting distributed amongst the community. That's what we need. I look forward-- the Texas delegation-- congressional delegation-- looks forward to working with President Biden to make sure that all 254 counties of Texas are represented.

I'll also highlight this. We're at Kelly Air Force base. Kelly was shut down years ago. It is great to see Kelly Air Force base lead this effort. Today, we're delivering water. Hopefully tomorrow, we'll deliver vaccines.

GREG ABBOTT: We'll take some questions. Do we have a microphone so I'll be able to hear? We'll take questions.

- [INAUDIBLE]

GREG ABBOTT: Sure.

- We have so many people that are asking, are they going to be forced to pay these utility bills, or are there going to be caps? [INAUDIBLE]

GREG ABBOTT: The issue about utility bills and the skyrocketing prices that so many homeowners and renters are facing is the top priority for the Texas legislature right now. That's exactly why I called that emergency meeting yesterday. Since yesterday through today, they've been working around the clock on solutions. It's exactly why the Public Utilities Commission put a stay right now-- a halt-- on any further increases.

And let me just repeat what I said to make sure everyone knows, and that is the Public Utilities Commission is issuing a moratorium on customer disconnections for nonpayment, and they are also going to restrict electric providers from sending customers the skyrocketing invoices at this time. The legislature understands the importance of this issue and will work at great speed to fully address it.

- Is the state prepared to look into the rainy-day fund [INAUDIBLE]

GREG ABBOTT: First, to be clear, we will not end this session until the state of Texas is-- and all of its power generation capabilities is fully winterised so we never go through this again. With regard to how it's going to be funded, every possibility is on the table. We will consider whatever options. We need to figure out the strategy first.

- Are there any other questions from other outlets?

GREG ABBOTT: Yeah, will you shout to me?

- What's your position on renewable energy at this moment? I know you had made mentions of comments earlier in the week with wind turbines and clean energy. Where do we move forward now to sustain energy?

GREG ABBOTT: So listen, as it concerns sources of energy, Texas has been and always will be in what's called all-of-the-above category. We want all sources of energy going forward. However, we need to make clear, all sources of energy that plug into the Texas power grid must be proven to be weatherized and winterized so that it will be available during times either of peak usage in the winter or peak usage in the summer.

- [INAUDIBLE]

GREG ABBOTT: So if the Green New Deal were to eliminate Texas's access and use of fossil fuel, that would be very, very challenging for the state of Texas. We need access to natural gas. We need access to oil. We need access to nuclear. We need access to all sources of energy. And we want to-- Texas has been a national leader in all of the above, including wind energy. We must remain that way. However, we must ensure that it's going to be usable and plug into the Texas grid during the most-- times when it's needed the most.

- [INAUDIBLE] --another outlet?

- Question over here.

GREG ABBOTT: Oh yes.

- Sir, [INAUDIBLE] "San Antonio Reporter." In these meetings that you're going to to have coming up are you going to be talking about the winterization protections that were recommended in 2011 and why those were not followed?

GREG ABBOTT: So the recommendations in 2011 will be one of the top issues focused on, but let's talk about where we're going. We will make sure, when this session is over with, that all of the facilities that Texans count upon for power generation will be winterized for the winter, but also summerized for the summer. We can never have a situation when we know-- at least ERCOT knows-- we're going to be dealing with high power demands, we should never run short of power again. Texas is the energy state. We need to make sure that we translate that into power generation to make sure that the power stays on.

- Last question!

- [INAUDIBLE]

GREG ABBOTT: Speak a little bit louder?

- [INAUDIBLE] What are the lessons learned, would you say, that need to be revisited to ensure something as catastrophic as this doesn't happen again in this state?

GREG ABBOTT: Sure. So several things have been learned already. One is that Texas, as a state, must step up and ensure that all of our power generation is winterized, and that includes every power source that plugs into the Texas grid. Second, we need to make sure that ERCOT is providing an accurate forecast. The state of Texas and the people of this state base decisions on the forecasts that ERCOT made about the power demands that would be forthcoming, and they just flat out missed the forecast. We need to figure out what solutions can be delivered that will correct that.

Then, also, we want to make sure we deliver the solutions immediately for the skyrocketing power and electricity bills that consumers are facing right now.

- Great. Thank you guys so much for coming.

- Thank you.