Houstonians Pay More for Hurricane Ike

Centerpoint customers will pick up the tab for getting Houston back on the power grid after Hurricane Ike. Centerpoint's bill for repairing the grid comes to $677 million dollars. But Houston Mayor Bill White disputes part of those charges. Laurie Johnson has more.
Hurricane Ike was the third largest hurricane in U.S. history in terms of property damage.

In the Houston area, millions of people went without power for days and even weeks.

CenterPoint Energy brought in employees and contractors from around the country to get the power grid back online.

CenterPoint Spokesman Floyd LeBlanc says it cost the company more than half a billion dollars to recover from Hurricane Ike.

"We had everyone at CenterPoint Energy basically working long hours to restore electric service following the hurricane. And those costs were not being recovered through normal rates because customers weren't using electricity. We estimate that the company lost $17 million net of all of the costs, including getting full recovery of what we're seeking in the storm recovery cost case."

That recovery cost case is basically a claim to the Texas Public Utility Commission. It requests permission to raise customer rates by about $1.85 per customer, per month for the next 14 years. That works out to about $300 on average.

Houston Mayor Bill White says CenterPoint did an impressive job getting the city back online and the vast bulk of the bill covers legitimate costs.

"However, we have found $22 million which are the salaries that would be, that were normally paid to CenterPoint people, basically their straight salary."

The mayor used his public platform during his report to city council to dispute the $22 million claim.

"There's right and there's wrong and on some things you've got to draw a line about what's right."

City attorneys are negotiating the claim with CenterPoint and hope to reach a settlement before the end of the week.

CenterPoint's LeBlanc says revenue losses due to the hurricane should be eligible for recovery and the claim the company is making follows previously established precedent.

"What we're saying is storm hurricane recovery is not included in normal costs, which are collected under normal circumstances and it ought to be treated differently. And that's — again the PUC staff made this recommendation in a previous case and we're following that pattern. There is room to disagree on this and we hope we can resolve the disagreements, if not, the Public Utility Commission will make the final decision."

If the two parties cannot reach a settlement over the disputed $22 million, the PUC will hold a hearing on Friday morning.

No matter what the outcome, CenterPoint customers can expect their bills to go up a bit for the next 14 years.

Laurie Johnson, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.
Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...