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Consumer rights groups demand reform as major Texas electric company profits from power cutbacks

FILE - This Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, file photo shows power lines in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
FILE - This Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, file photo shows power lines in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
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Consumer rights groups are banding together after learning a major Texas electric customer made millions of dollars cutting back on their power use while homeowners were asked to voluntarily do the same thing.

This happened over the summer when Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s power grid operator, was struggling to find enough electricity to keep everyone's lights on during peak hours.

Consumer groups Earthjustice, Sierra Club and Public Citizen and others held a joint news conference Friday to call for policy reform, but they’re not finding much support among policy makers.

In the last legislative session, Texas lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1929 which now requires large power users to register with the ERCOT. It was supposed to improve communications during emergencies.

But the consumer groups argue that when Texas came close to not having enough power, those communications were all business. Riot Platforms, the operator of the largest crypto mining operation in Texas, scored big collecting close to $32 million.

These payments are unfair to Texans," said Adrian Shelley, Texas director of Public Citizen. "When you and I answer the call to conserve energy, we don't get paid for that. We turn off our thermostats and we suffer in our homes."

The Texas Coalition against crypto mining explains it was textbook buying low and selling high. Riot had bought large amounts of electricity at a low bulk rate and now had an opportunity to take advantage of the greater summer demand and sell it back on the much-higher spot market.

“They raked in millions of dollars ... trading their energy that they've already pre purchased back to the grid or TXU at extremely high elevated levels," said Jackie Sawicky, the founder of the coalition.

Efforts in the legislature that would have used state law to force large electric users to power down during an emergency died in committee. So did an effort to limit local governments from offering tax abatements to attract bit miners to their area. Riot Platforms in Rockdale says their communities are getting their money's worth.

“They’ve created hundreds of rural jobs," said Vice President Pierre Rochard. "Bitcoin miners are the number one employer in Rockdale. Bitcoin miners are also the number one taxpayer to Rockdale ISD.”

The consumer groups admit bit miners like Riot aren't the problem.

“Riot is a symptom of an energy regulatory system that puts power and profits over the well-being of millions of Texans," said Dave Cortez with the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter.

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