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25 Investigates: Holding utility companies accountable as many are left in the cold

25 Investigates
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Posted at 7:34 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 11:37:53-05

LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY, TX — Finding answers to utility outages gets more frustrating by the day across the Lone Star State.

As Texas struggles to get through this prolonged snow, ice and cold event, Texans grow ever more frustrated at the lack of answers and response from the companies that promise to provide us with water and power for a price.

Sherrie Wallace of Little River-Academy calls it a revolving door of promises that no one ever seems to keep.

"We have been without power since Monday 3 A.M. Cannot reach anybody. I've emailed, I've gone to their reporting center, I've called. Absolutely no response from anyone," she said.

Who do you call? In Texas that's a short question with a long answer.

”What we have in the state of Texas is a deregulated system where your viewers, they will go out and contract with a power company to provide them power, and that power company won't rely upon a power generator to generate that power,” said Gov. Greg Abbott.

If you look at the list of power providers, you'll see a list of names you've probably never heard of. They want your money, but when it comes to outages, they'll refer you to Oncor or CenterPoint.

What do you get when you call them? Typically, it's a voicemail quickly followed by a hangup.

Carolyn Lofton knows both sides of this problem. The mayor of Marlin heads the city water utility that's had breakdowns and water main breaks due to the deep freeze.

She and her team have worked almost around the clock to find parts for repairs.

”We've been on the phone trying to find the materials we were hoping we have located. We're calling everybody trying to find what we need to get this plant up and running,” she said.

Marlin officials hope to have found what they need in a nearby town and if so, hope to have the water back tomorrow.

In the meantime, Mayor Lofton has used her political clout to pressure power companies to get the lights back on.

”And when I spoke with the district manager and he couldn't provide me answers, I requested to speak to someone higher. So he had the south regional manager director call me, and I spoke with him," she said.

Two Marlin neighborhoods have their power back for now.

Mayor Lofton has even leaned on retailers to restock store shelves, but gets a familiar response.

”They cannot get trucks, and she said they cannot put trucks on the road in this because they cannot sacrifice,” she said.

Mayor Lofton says she doesn't plan to stop there.

”I am seeking sources that I can speak to to try to get things done,” she said.

Back at Little River-Academy, Wallace worries about her animals and herself and she struggles with the off and on help of a portable generator.

"Everything's just trying to be... just trying to keep everything together,” she said.

In some cases, utility companies are right to say they have a problem of unprecedented proportion, but we made a promise to pay and they made a promise to provide.