In a desperate attempt for this message to reach at least one of you, and that you will read it, reply, advise or, better yet, investigate - the foregoing letter will be sent to each Commissioner and each of their Staff. This message is also being sent to:
Pete Gallego, Ciro Rodriguez, Gov. Rick Perry, Atty Gen Greg Abbot, Carlos Uresti, Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn.
By “investigate,” please don’t end that with managements’ word at RGEC (Rio Grande Electric Coop). Come to Terlingua and give fair notice so that people can plan to talk with you. Most of us live very far apart and often have to budget gasoline usage for the month to go into town for any reason.
We understand that there is absolutely no regulatory agency that oversees electric cooperatives in Texas. We understand that the Texas PUC website provides an area designated for the submission of formal complaints, but that doesn’t seem to apply to, or protect us, either.
We are the residents of South Brewster County, Texas - the largest slice (thousands of acres squared) – of part of the largest county in the State. Many of us have been members of the Rio Grande Electric Cooperative for decades; some – since it began. We have no choice, and never have.
Twenty-five years ago, the electric service was, understandably, pretty bad. The population was very sparse, mostly impoverished, and we had very few (if any) electrical or electronic devices. When there were the welcome summer thunderstorms, we knew to expect electricity to go off, sometimes for days. We had what we called the 3-strikes you’re out rule. If the lights flickered 3 times, electricity went down, indefinitely. Back then, we could submit a letter of complaint to RGEC and receive reimbursement for our electric clock, VCR or whatever got ZAPPED. Two residents here had clocks that ran backwards and tiny microwaves that started themselves during brown-outs.
And still – way back then – we at least received a small dividend check for our “share of the ownership” of Rio Grande Electric Coop. That hasn’t happened in close to 20 years.
Our problems today are horrendous. Our population has grown drastically; the majority of residents are still below the poverty level or living on fixed income. We have no benefit of trash pickup, so dumpsters average around $100 per month; we are not allowed to have a landfill and the nearest one (we have to pay a fee) is 85 miles away in Alpine. No one has benefit of sewer, and our so-called city water averages $45 for the first 1000 gallons each month. We don’t have benefit of natural gas and must rely on propane tanks – always around $3.00 per gallon. The community is disproportionately poor and disproportionately overly charged for everything else - from gasoline to groceries.
We have had no choice but to tolerate our shoddy electrical service, but – it has gotten much worse. Monthly rates for meters have gone up 100% (from $17.+ - to $35. + -) and, electricity cost has gone up 10% or more. A ninety-year-old, long-time friend of mine just received her electric bill for last month of $ 519.00. She does have 2 meters on stock tanks to water a handful of horses, then the one on her house. Actual electricity cost on the stock tanks is $4 - $5 per month; meters alone are $105.
Commissioner Smitherman, regarding a response from Rio Grande Electric about this particular woman’s problems. They said, “She lives 120 miles from the point of transmission,” as if she is the only one. There are more like 1,000 to 1,500 residents here in Texas’ South Brewster County. With the growth we have experienced, RGEC has not grown – or planned to grow – with us.
Now, there are no warnings that the electricity is about to fail; constant surges and/or brown-outs occur on even the clearest of days (no wind, no rain, no storm). Residents complain to each other (and to the electric coop) of losses of televisions, air-conditioners, refrigerators, freezers (food), compressors, VCRs, answering machines and on, and on, and on…………..RGEC always has responded that it is ALL due to “acts of God.” At one community meeting, their General Manager stated, “ . . . .Yes, we were aware that the power down here was spiking, surging and failing, but we thought you people would rather have a little electricity than none at all.” That meeting was after a period of about 30 hours over a period of 3 days of extreme brown-outs, surges and extreme spikes, then ultimate black-out. 12 to 24-hour black-outs are not unusual here.
As Americans choose to vacation within the U.S., our tourism income has held steady. It provides income for Texas, Brewster Co., Alpine, Terlingua, Big Bend National Park and Lajitas. At the top of the list as the most beautiful area in the State of Texas, we have enjoyed the financial benefit of being a choice destination. During the brown-outs and black-outs, people are stranded. Sometimes tourists are scared. Gas pumps don’t work; our only cell tower doesn’t work; convenience stores and restaurants close (no lights, no a/c, no cash register). Our residents that are on electrical medical devices are terrified. Phones go dead; we can’t call 911.
Last year, as if to punish us for complaining, RGEC erected some of the most hideous, industrial-looking electric apparatus between our main highway and our most prized, tourist-alluring view - the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park. Other easements and options were available to them. And, we residents wonder why that money wasn’t spent for industrial poles from the source, down hwy. 118 to this community. Or,a decent substation here.
Regarding notices of the latest rate increases: Letters announcing the meeting to inform us of rate increases were post marked Feb. 9th, 2010 – the day of the meeting – in Alpine – 85 miles away; some of us got them as late as the 12th. Everyone I have spoken to about this was so angered at the obvious attempt to keep S. County people out of the meeting, they threw the letters away. We did call RGEC to complain about the letters being mailed same day, and that we couldn’t have driven the 85 miles to attend after work – no one could.
“Sorry. We apologize for the oversight.”
We are a close-knit community of simple people, but we are not simple-minded.
Now, adding repeated insult to repeated injury, RGEC proudly announces they have acquired a second military contract – Laughlin AFB (they already have Ft. Bliss). On their 2008 IRS information, they mention “exportation of electricity to Mexico”. Why? They can’t take care of the service we pay for……… why take on more in areas where those residents and bases do have choices.
Our spirits have been beaten down with this situation. Whenever possible, they make us (the victims) feel like everything is our fault for living here. Many of us bought our property years ago, before land sharks inflated prices so much. Not one of our citizenry would dream of living anywhere else. This is, without a doubt, the most beautiful part of the Great State of Texas.
We are Texans; we are citizens. Who can, or will, help us?
Citizens of South Brewster County, Texas
Big Bend National Park
A REPLY FROM TEXAS GOVERNOR RICK PERRY
July 29, 2010
Elizabeth E. Hill, Ph.D., RN
Dear Dr. Hill:
Thank you for taking the time to contact the Office of the Governor.
I am asking Lane Lanford, Executive Director of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, for his staff’s assistance in reviewing and responding both to you and this office on the information
Please let us know whenever we may be of service in the future.
Constituent Communication Division
Office of the Governor