New Braunfels Utilities officials discussed a predicted mild rest of the winter season as well as climbing natural gas and electricity prices during a recent winter outlook meeting. A new bill redesign was also unveiled.

Above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation compared to previous years are forecast through February. The drought is also projected to persist during that time, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analyzed by NBU.

Energy market outlook

NBU Power Supply Manager Rebekah Crouch said natural gas is important leading into the winter season because it is used for residential home heating as well as being a fuel component to create electricity.

“We’ve had a relatively mild winter thus far,” Crouch said. “So the warmer it is in the winter, the less natural gas we use for residential heating or to generate electricity, the more natural gas is available for later in the winter season.”

Crouch said due to increased consumption of natural gas and the competitive natural gas market, commodities prices are expected to increase across the country this winter.

“The Energy Information Administration is projecting residential heating costs for natural gas to increase 28% this winter across the United States. And in the South specifically, ... they’re expecting natural gas costs to increase 24% from last winter to this winter, and that’s for residential heating,” Crouch said.The increased price of natural gas has also contributed to the projected rise in electricity prices through Electric Reliability Council of Texas this winter, according to Crouch.

NBU Chief Administrative Officer David Hubbard said the state Legislature has made progress in implementing priorities set with Senate Bill 3, in which goals were set after Winter Storm Uri to analyze better preparation and response to weather emergencies and power outages.

“We talk about Winter Storm Uri a lot, and it’s going to keep happening for a number of years because Winter Storm Uri changed the landscape of the energy market here in Texas,” Hubbard said.

Utility bill redesign

NBU took customer feedback in 2022 to redesign the structure of the bills sent for utility charges to be easier to understand.

“I think a big takeaway from our summer months was our bill was a bit difficult to understand, so we took that feedback from our customers,” NBU Customer Service Manager Vania Caballero said.

The three components of the electric grid reflected on the new NBU bill structure include generation, transmission and distribution.

The purchased power and power cost recovery adjustment, or PCRA, charges on previous bills have been changed to the current bill line items of generation, transmission and replenish reserves. Replenish reserves will be on bills until the company is able to refill its stabilization fund again, according to Caballero.

“Purchased power is the cost to NBU to buy power through ERCOT and then pass it through to our customers,” Caballero said. “And that PCRA is also the cost of power that we buy in ERCOT that is passed through to our customers.”

The delivery charge bill item will remain with the clarification of the availability charge being changed to the electric service availability charge on the new bill.NBU officials also have an optimistic outlook on the financial security of the utility company and anticipate having enough money in reserves to support utility services in New Braunfels in the event of an extreme weather event.

“We’re still in the process of rebuilding our reserves. It’s gonna take us a number of years to get where we need to get, but we do have some in place now,” Hubbard said. “We did go out and procure ... a line of credit in order to pay off some of the costs. And so we reserved half of that line of credit for emergency situations. So we’re in a good place.”By Sierra Martin