Too cold to cut the power?


A reader called Tuesday night in a bit of a pickle.

She was a single mom, laid off from a major engineering firm seven months ago, who fell behind in her bills and just had the electricity cut off in her apartment. She hadn’t deposited her unemployment check so she paid over the phone using a credit card.
Fortunately CenterPoint turned the power back on less than two hours after she paid (much to her surprise and the CenterPoint reps I contacted about her problem), but during the course of the crisis she asked “Isn’t there a law preventing them from turning off your power when it gets cold?”
Yes, but the current blast of cold air isn’t enough to trip that switch.
According to Public Utility Commission of Texas electricity subrules §25.483(i), an electric utility cannot disconnect a customer anywhere in its service territory on a day when:

(1) the previous day’s highest temperature did not exceed 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature is predicted to remain at or below that level for the next 24 hours, according to the nearest National Weather Service (NWS) reports; or
(2) the NWS issues a heat advisory for any county in the electric utility’s service territory, or when such advisory has been issued on any one of the preceding two calendar days.

That strikes me as a bit stingy, since 33 degrees feels a lot like 32 degrees. I wonder if part of that rule-making had damage due to burst water pipes in mind rather than personal safety.
In any case, it seems unlikely we’ll stay below 32 degrees for very long this week even though there’s a chance for snow.